COVID-19: How German League plans to end season with 'ghost games'

The German Football League (DFL), coordinating the Bundesliga and the second division, is on the verge of becoming the first major league in Europe to return to the pitch several weeks after sporting activities as well as socio-economic activities across the world were halted due to the COVID-19 oandemic.

The spread of coronavirus led to the suspension of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League matches. Other elite leagues like the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League initially postponed matches until April, but later declared an indifinite suspension of ongoing competitions.

Ending the season without playing the remaining nine matches will affect the clubs financially. An internal DFL report from late March revealed that at least 13 of the 36 Bundesliga and second-division sides face insolvency by May or June, if the season does not restart soon.

Bundesliga has, however, announced that it is determined to finish the current season after its 36 professional clubs met on Thursday to discuss a restart of the season in May.

The Chief executive of the German league, Christian Seifert, said the league is ready to get going as soon as Saturday May 9.

"If we start on 9 May, we are ready. If it is later, we will be ready again," Seifert said.

"For us, what is decisive is what the politicians will decide. It is not for us to decide when. Games without spectators are not what we want – but at the moment the only thing that seems feasible."

The announcement is coming few days after Germany allowed stores of up to 8,600 square feet to open again from Monday, along with car and bicycle dealers and bookstores, provided they adhere to strict social distancing and hygiene rules. Large gatherings in the country remain banned at least until October 24.

German league has, however, said the matches will be Geisterspiel ("ghost game", without fans). Manchester United played a similar match on Thursday March 12, 2020 in their Europa League last 16 match against LASK.

Unlike the usual football atmosphere where matches are played in front of thousands of excited spectators who fill up seats at stadiums, only 322 people will be allowed in the stadium when the league returns in May. They include – 98 in the "interior" (players, coaching and medical staff), 115 in the stands (including media) and 109 more within the stadium perimeter (security, TV production staff).

Before the decision to restart the league was announced, a task force has been set up led by the German national team physician, Dr Tim Meyer to plan every last detail of safety and hygiene. According to plans of the task force, players and coaches will be tested regularly between training sessions and before every match.

The teams will arrive at the stadium separately and at different times, there will be no lining up alongside each other on the pitch, shaking hands or taking team photos will be abandoned. Mobile sinks are also to be set up in the stadium while protective masks are mandatory for medical personnel and all those involved in TV production. The mixed zone, in which post-match interviews are normally carried out, will remain closed while press conferences will only be conducted virtually. At the security-controlled entrance to the stadium, everyone's health status will be checked and their body temperature measured with an ear thermometer. Each club must have a hygiene officer on site who ensures that all hygiene requirements are met.

Borussia Monchengladbach and Cologne played the last Bundesliga match on Wednesday March 11, 2020 before the league was suspended on March 13, and there are nine matches left to be played in the league. Total matches played by each team in the Bundesliga are 34 and 25 have been played so far by 16 teams before the league was halted, while Werder Bremenn and Eintracht Frankfurt have one outstanding match. Bayern Munich presently tops the Bundesliga table with 55 points from 25 games. They are followed by Borussia Dortmund – 51 points.

Other top four European leagues – Premier League, French Ligue, Spanish La Liga, and Italian Serie A are also considering a continuation of the season without spectators in the stands.

Serie A is considering to start at the end of May or start of June, Spanish League President Javier Tebas suggested three possible dates – May 28, June 6, June 28. The 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to play the rest of the season from June 8, while French Ligue is aiming for June 17 and end by July 25.

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