When Borussia Dortmund take on Schalke in the highly anticipated Revierderby this Saturday, it will mark the end of a 67-day lockdown. Only days ago, Schalke warned there that the club would forgo “existence-threatening” concerns if the league did not return by June. Freiburg even labelled the chances of resumption at 50/50 at one point.
There was an acknowledgement that had the league faced cancellation then losses could have blown up to €750 million. So, cue cautious optimism when Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel decided to end the lockdown last week. The German Football League (DFL) chief executive Christian Seifert labelled it as “good news”, while Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was pleased “that sporting decisions would be made on the pitch.” Merkel’s announcement, according to German media, has met widespread approval from the German citizens.
Despite the resumption of German football, things will be different. Very different. There are several procedures in place and stringent guidelines to follow. First and foremost, no player is allowed to have physical contact with neighbours or the public and must naturally respect the mandatory six-foot social distancing rule.
For a sport that encourages marking, this is not the case in training. Several clubs have instructed players to train in groups based on their position on the field. Some clubs have issued a questionnaire by mobile phone for players to answer on the morning of a training session asking for their current condition.
Players will be tested twice a week. In matchday weeks such as this one, the players are tested the day before a game. Club doctors receive the results on the morning of matches. The majority of these will be announced at the club’s team hotel. Just over three hours before kick-off the teams will make the way to the stadium in disinfected coaches before undergoing a staggered arrival.
When the teams arrive, they will see a hugely reduced number of personnel at the stadium. The DFL has revealed a plan for a maximum of 322 people in and around the stadiums for matches. This is further divided into three zones. 98 people are allowed pitchside, which includes the 22 players and officials on the playing surface, the substitutes, as well as the coaching and medical staff. The number also includes three photographers, four ball-persons, 15 VAR technicians.
115 people will be permitted in the stands. That list includes security, the delegation of the club’s involvement in that particular match, journalists, and two anti-doping officials. No supporters will be allowed inside the stadium.
As the game progresses, managers are required to wear masks as are the substitutes and fourth officials. Then arrives one of the big dilemmas of football – the situation of when one team scores. Players are encouraged to not embrace, but we have already seen prior to the break several celebrating with fist pumps. Referees could be forced to intervene if celebrations become too close.
At the end of a gruelling game, players are advised to leave the stadium almost immediately and shower at the team hotel or at home. Press conferences will take place by video call and players and coaches will not be allowed to conduct mixed-zone interviews. When television broadcasters wrap up for the day, it is hoped the players and coaches will be at home or at the very least making their way back.
The DFL has developed and meticulously planned these orders in order to get football back underway. There will be nerves and a sigh of relief if this works, but there will be a wait. With COVID-19’s incubation of approximately five days, we may have to wait until the next matchday to see whether anyone has been affected by the virus.
Bundesliga officials, indeed sporting organisations around the globe, are bracing themselves. It is game on, but nothing like before. This is the new norm in the world of sport.
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