After two months of pandemic-induced lockdown that has stalled the global economy, we are beginning to see indications that some parts of the world could emerge from hiding, albeit cautiously. Over half of America’s states have launched limited re-openings, and even Spain and Italy — two of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19 — have begun lifting restrictions.
Similarly, football is preparing to dip its toes back into the water as well. The Bundesliga will return to action on May 16th, with matches played behind closed doors (at home-teams’ own stadiums) amidst a ban on public gatherings that will remain in place. Read the Bundesliga’s return to play to see how it has been engineered and what the remainder of the season will look like.
And although the Dutch and French leagues have decided to cancel the remainder of their campaigns, the English Premier League, like the Bundesliga, remains committed to completing its season. Project Restart targets a return to small-group training by May 18, with subsequent escalation by stages leading to closed-door matches by June. The fly in that ointment is grumbling from some relegation-threatened teams about plans to play at neutral venues where cleanliness can be established and maintained.
According to Professor Tim Meyer, chairman of UEFA’s medical committee, “All football organisations which are planning the restart of their competitions will produce comprehensive (plans) dictating sanitary and operational conditions ensuring that the health of those involved in the games is protected and the integrity of public policy is preserved. Under these conditions and in full respect of local legislation, it is definitely possible to plan the restart of the competitions suspended during the 2019-20 season.” skysports.com
But although proposals drafted by Premier League medical advisor Dr. Mark Gillette include twice-weekly testing of players and officials for coronavirus, discomfort with the protocols remains. Indeed, it is being widely reported that dozens of league stars have reservations about returning to play.
Brighton striker Glenn Murray recently said “Everyone is in different situations. I have children at home. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise them. Some footballers have newly born children who might be more susceptible to getting the disease. Some are living with elderly parents. It is a really difficult situation to agree on.” And Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero says “The majority of players are scared because they have children and families.”
But abandoning the season would mean the loss of as much as £1B in revenue, and could spell ruin for some of the league’s more financially-tenuous teams. As it is in so many other ways, then, football is a microcosm for the tightrope our world walks between pandemic and economic catastrophes.
Today I’m raising a glass in the hopes that everyone gets it right.
How do you think the restrictions will affect the game? Will the players have the same intensity in silent stadiums? Will TV viewing seem odd without the background noise of cheering fans? Do you care? And what do you think next season will bring?
Please come on in, pour yourself a pint of your own select beverage, and share your thoughts with us in the comments below...