Bundesliga marks soccer’s elite return, with changes, during coronavirus pandemic
While supporters were not allowed – the most obvious difference from normal match days – the first five Bundesliga games definitely boosted the morale of those who watch TV around the world and thirst for action in a top league. Not to mention the clubs themselves which desperately need the lucrative television money to operate and thrive.
The Bundesliga is the first major European football league to return to action, perhaps providing a model in some ways for how the American sports leagues can proceed.
The top German division regularly attracts an average of 43,300 people per match, but these matches are played behind closed doors.
The Bundesliga hiatus lasted nine weeks, as the other three elite football divisions of Europe’s most affected countries – the British Premier League, the Spanish Liga and the Italian Serie A – have yet to set a date for their feedback.
Germany, which has been praised for handling the pandemic, has reported more than 173,000 cases of coronavirus with nearly 8,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
The Bundesliga applied strict rules before the restart.
“We had so many other things to organize, respect and resolve,” said FC Koln football chief Frank Aehlig at a virtual press conference before the games this weekend. “It is completely different from what we know from our normal activities.”
The teams spent a week in quarantine before the games, transported players to the stadiums in several buses rather than one, and more than one dressing room was used per team as well. Even then, the rules of social distancing had to be respected.
There were staggered warm-ups and the teams entered the field at different times without mascots, in another change.
The substitutes put on masks and did not sit in the dugout but between the dugout and stand in the Signal Iduna Park of Borussia Dortmund, well away from the teammates. The match ball was disinfected before kick-off, which presumably results in the referee appearing to enter the field last.
More than 80,000 fans would have generally roared on Dortmund against Schalke 04 in one of the fiercest rivalries in football, but instead, the lonely sounds were coaches and players shouting for instructions and cheering for encouragement and screams of pain players when they were dirty.
First goal in Dortmund
The first goal came in Dortmund and from the most likely competitor, Erling Braut Haaland.
The 19-year-old cleverly deflected center Thorgan Hazard with his left foot in the 29th minute as Dortmund beat Schalke 4-0 to move within a point of the leader of Bayern Munich.
He celebrated with a distance dance from his teammates, without noise.
When the Dortmund medical staff took care of Haaland in the field in the second half, they also wore masks. A mask was given to Thomas Delaney of Dortmund when he was replaced in the 67th minute.
The party match celebrated by Dortmund’s players – arms raised and lowered – happened but not while holding hands with teammates.
The new standard in football.
Things could change
Despite the matches taking place as the Bundesliga seeks to end the season, things could change at any time.
If the players are positive for the virus, the matches will be canceled. This happened at the second level of the league when two Dynamo Dresden players tested positive, which resulted in the elimination of Sunday’s shock against Hanover.
Augsburg manager Heiko Herrlich missed Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Wolfsburg for breaking quarantine rules by purchasing toothpaste.
But Saturday’s game in the world’s most popular sport should be a respite for many, if only temporarily, as the coronavirus continues to rage.
“To have the opportunity to discuss whether it was a penalty or not, to know whether it was a handball or not … all of these things can bring back a little normalcy for a few hours for many people,” said Aehlig , whose team welcomes Mainz on Sunday. “I hope this will give people a positive feeling for their own lives.”