Players of German soccer club Cologne attend a training session as the league is set to return to action. Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday gave the Bundesliga the go-ahead to resume from mid-May behind closed doors, on condition that strict hygiene measures are maintained to prevent contagion of the novel coronavirus.
Following the green light, the German Football League (DFL) must now set a date to resume with the weekends of May 16-17 or 23-24 as possible options — becoming the first of Europe’s top five leagues to return to the field.
Politicians believe resuming matches in the first and second divisions to “limit the economic damage” for the 36 clubs is “acceptable”, the document showed.
More than a dozen of the 36 teams in the top two divisions are on the brink of bankruptcy, according to media reports, and the league desperately needs to recoup 300 million euros ($325 million) it would be due from TV contracts after the clubs are allowed to complete the season.
The Bundesliga would become the first major European league to return to action.
Teams returned to training on April 6 although sessions have followed stringent social distancing rules and players are not allowed to change at training grounds. Before matches, players will have to undergo a form of quarantine.
The government document said: “Restarting match activity must be preceded by a two-week quarantine, where appropriate in the form of a training camp.”
The football league (DFL) has long urged restarting play, which it says is vital for a sector that employs 56,000 people in Germany.
It says an intensive testing plan would allow matches to be relaunched with low risk.
So far, clubs in the top two divisions have returned 10 positive results for coronavirus from 1,724 tests since training resumed. Three of the cases are known to be from the Cologne club and two from Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Health Minister Jens Spahn has argued that the testing regime “makes sense and can serve as an example for other forms of professional sport,” although he warned “it has to be lived up to”.
Bayern Munich, seeking their eighth consecutive title, were four points clear at the top of the table when play was halted.
Leagues across Europe are taking different approaches to the unprecedented crisis.
The French league announced last week it will not resume the Ligue 1 or Ligue 2 seasons, with Paris Saint-Germain being awarded the top-flight title.
The Netherlands abandoned its season a week earlier while a decision to cancel Belgium’s Pro League still needs to be ratified.
The Premier League, Europe’s richest league, has said it aims to restart in June, but deep differences are emerging over plans to use neutral stadiums.
Players in Italy’s Serie A returned to training this week and in Spain, Barcelona say players will undergo coronavirus tests as La Liga clubs begin restricted training ahead of a proposed resumption of the season next month.
Meanwhile, a video of Hertha Berlin forward Salomon Kalou shaking hands with his team-mates “shocked” key German politicians.
“The video has done the German league (DFL) and professional football a disservice,” Anja Stahmann, chairwoman of Germany’s regional sports ministers, told radio station RBB on Wednesday.
“I have heard from colleagues that they are shocked and shaken.
“We were struck by great doubts when we watched the video,” admitted the sports senator for the state of Bremen.
“I got the impression that good rules were being written down on paper, but that they were not actually being lived out.”
On Monday, the former Chelsea forward was suspended by Hertha after posting a video to Facebook showing him greeting team-mates and club employees with handshakes, flaunting hygiene guidelines laid out by the league.
Kalou apologised for disregarding the social distancing rules, saying: “it was a big mistake”.
The 34-year-old also said he could understand how his video, shot in the dressng room, caused shockwaves as the league was seeking permission to return to action. Kalou has scored 48 goals in 151 Bundesliga games for Hertha, but is out of contract at the end of the season and could have played his last game for the club.
“It was respectless and I want to apologise for that sincerely,” he added.
“But I am about more than those five bad minutes that people see of me in the dressing room.”
However, Kalou’s video drew criticism from the top of the German government.
The Bundesliga ground to a halt on March 13 to limit spreading the coronavirus, but the German Football League (DFL) has detailed plans to restart the top two leagues from May 15.
Bundesliga clubs were racing Thursday to get ready for the restart of the season in nine days' time, amid concerns about whether the players will stick to the strict hygiene guidelines implemented to ensure the campaign is completed.
Three people have tested positive for coronavirus at Cologne and will be placed into a 14-day quarantine, the Bundesliga club said Friday in a potential blow to hopes of restarting the German football season this month.
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