Bundesliga formulating plans for behind closed doors return in May
German soccer’s Bundesliga is making plans to resume in early May, with matches behind closed doors given the coronavirus pandemic that has brought leagues to a standstill across Europe and the world.
Clubs in the top two divisions returned to training this week (Bayern Munich pictured), and, in an interview with the New York Times, Christian Seifert, the chief executive of the DFL, outlined the preparations that were being taken to stage fixtures, subject to the necessary health and safety safeguards.
The top-tier Bundesliga and second-tier Bundesliga were halted on 13 March, and the suspension was subsequently extended until 30 April, but they look set to be the first prominent leagues to return to action, with matches at all 36 stadiums, and with a view to completing the 2019-20 seasons in June.
Seifert said: “We are part of the culture in the country, people long to get back a short piece of normal life, and that could mean the Bundesliga plays again. This is why we have to play our role here, and that means to support the government and to talk with the government about when we will be able to play again.”
Germany has the fourth-highest number of recorded coronavirus cases in Europe, more than 107,000 as of yesterday, but there have been relatively few deaths, some 1,861, with a comprehensive testing programme in place.
The Bundesliga estimates that, without fans, matches can go ahead with no more than 240 people, including players, coaching and medical staff, match officials and television production staff present, and has established two groups to address the staging process, one to handle game day regulations and the other to devise a hygiene plan for training and games.
Seifert insists the league does not want to be seen to be putting itself above the health care system, saying: “It won’t be the case that one doctor or one nurse that is really relevant for the system cannot be tested because football players have to be tested.”
There are nine rounds of the German top flight still to go, with Bayern Munich four points clear of Borussia Dortmund at the upper end of the table.
Major leagues across Europe are keen to complete their 2019-20 campaigns, in part to avoid refunds to broadcasting rights partners, with Seifert putting the cost of not finishing the current Bundesliga season at up to €750 million ($813 million).
He added that “we are all fighting to survive,” claiming that 50 per cent of 2. Bundesliga teams faced having to file bankruptcy if the season was not completed, and that up to five top-flight teams were under threat too.
It emerged this week that the DFL was in talks with Sky Deutschland, the German pay-TV operator over potentially making advance rights payments to help financially-stricken clubs in the current absence of matches.
Seifert also said that the league had hired an international bank to deal with inquiries from private equity firms that might be willing to provide a nine-figure bridging loan to help it deal with the crisis.
Meanwhile, the FIGC, the Italian soccer federation, is formulating medical guidelines, including a testing regime for players, to enable the return of top-tier Serie A matches when the situation allows.
The Italian leagues have been suspended since 9 March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The FIGC medical committee held a video conference yesterday to “analyse and define a guaranteed protocol for football in the event that sporting activities are allowed to resume.”
Juventus are a point clear of Lazio at the top of Serie A, with teams having 12 or 13 matches to go, and the federation has said it is prepared to conclude the league in September or October, if necessary.
Italy has been one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, with more than 15,000 deaths out of almost 125,000 cases.
FIGC president Gabriel Gravina said: “If and when we should get the green light for a gradual restart, the world of football must be ready. Given the role that football plays in Italian society, I am convinced that we can make an important contribution to the whole country.”
Elsewhere, the Danish soccer authorities are drawing up plans for the resumption of the top two divisions, albeit without spectators, next month.
The country’s government announced on Monday that it would be relaxing some of the restrictions it had put in place to combat the coronavirus.
As a result, Divisionsforeningens, the body which oversees the top-tier 3F Superliga and second-tier NordicBet Liga, both of which are suspended, has presented three potential scenarios for a return to action.
The possible start dates for play to begin, behind closed doors, are 17, 24 and 31 May.
In all three scenarios, the 2019-20 season, including the Sydbank Cup, would be completed by the end of July, enabling the following campaign to start in early September.
Claus Thomsen, the executive director of Divisionsforeningens, said: “The authorities have made a plan for the slow reopening of Denmark, and of course we are planning professional club football after. Many clubs have had repatriated employees - both players and other staff. Some clubs have already started training in smaller groups. It will gradually increase, and then we can safely start competing again in the second half of May.”