The Bundesliga will become the first major European league to resume operations this month, but the return of German football only serves to highlight the lack of coherence among the continent’s footballing elite.
The Bundesliga lockdown ends on May 16 after German government officials gave the green light for football to resume its extended pandemic hiatus.
In doing so, it will become the first major European sports entity to emerge from restrictions designed to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 since its suspension in mid-March, and comes after more than 165,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in the country, along with over 7,000 deaths.
However, the resumption of the top two flights of German football presents a predicament to European football’s governing body, UEFA, as two of Germany’s neighbors – France and the Netherlands – have instead taken the step of announcing the cancelation of the current season.
“We know that it is very controversial,” Minister President of Bavaria, Markus Soder said.
“I know that those responsible in the clubs will do everything possible to comply with the regulations. But the players must also adhere to it.“
The decision to allow football to be played once again in Germany comes after three people at top division side Cologne tested positive for coronavirus last week, while Hertha Berlin’s forward Saloman Kalou was suspended after ignoring social distancing guidelines at his club’s training ground.
However, this step comes in direct contrast to the steps being taken in several other European countries. In addition to France’s Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie prematurely ending their seasons, it was announced on Thursday by the Dutch health minister that fans will not be allowed to attend games until a coronavirus vaccine has been found – an indefinite timeline which may spread to this time next year, or even beyond.
“We cannot yet mention a date for the last step, the mass gatherings,” said health minister Hugo de Jonge. “That is actually only possible if there is a vaccine and no one knows how long it will take. We hope of course soon, but a year or more is very real.”
While it has been generally accepted that global football’s resumption will come in tandem with empty stadia, there has been no concerted opinion made public as to how long this must remain in place.
Instead, it seems that each decision is being left to the relevant bodies governing the sport in each country – which will certainly lead to endless competing narratives.
The Premier League, for example, has rolled out its ‘Project Restart’ plans which aim for a return to low-level training on May 18 before full team training – and eventually games – at a later date. Italy’s Serie A has outlined a similar plan, while Spain’s La Liga has suggested that games are possible again in June.
Critics of the plans maintain that these windows leave little room for error, and that the spread of a virus cannot be micro-managed around a football schedule.
Throughout all of the football league resumption plans, and whether it is thought that some are premature or others are overly-cautious, odds are that someone will be proved right and someone proved wrong throughout what is admittedly a step into uncharted territory.
The hope is that there are no casualties along the way, as football chiefs grapple with an almost impossible conundrum.