Friday 16 August, 8.30pm
The Bundesliga will be the first major European football league to restart since the outbreak of COVID-19 after Government approval was confirmed. Our German football expert Kevin Hatchard has the details...
"The DFL have worked for weeks in conjunction with doctors on a concept that will be robust enough to convince the government that it is viable, and it appears those efforts have paid off."
German government allows Bundesliga restart
As part of general measures to ease the lockdown in Germany, the federal and state governments have consented to the Bundesliga restarting later this month, due to "the special position of professional athletes".
The DFL (Deutsche Fussball Liga) has decided to return on May 16 after the government suggested "the second half of May" as a guide.
Testing underway, but not without setbacks
The DFL have been working for weeks to put together a plan that would allow them to complete the 2019-20 season behind closed doors. Games without fans will be known as geisterspiele, or ghost games. Players at the 36 Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2. clubs have been training in small groups, performing drills that don't involve tackling, and observing strict hygiene protocols.
Public faith in the concept was shaken recently, when Hertha Berlin forward Salomon Kalou filmed a damaging Facebook Live broadcast which showed players and staff shaking hands, showed that tests were being performed without the correct protective equipment, and displayed a lack of correct social distancing. Kalou was suspended by Hertha, and the DFL described the content of the video as unacceptable.
A special task force, led by Professor Tim Meyer (part of the German national team's medical staff), has produced a detailed and extensive document that explains exactly what clubs and players need to do to minimise the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
Players will be tested for the virus on a regular basis. Five laboratories across the country will process the tests. The DFL is aware of the sensitivities concerning testing, and not only will they foot the bill for the estimated 20-25,000 tests that will be needed, but they will also donate half a million euros for additional testing outside football.
There have been positive tests at clubs, and different health authorities have acted in different ways. When two players and a physio tested positive for the virus at FC Koln, the three individuals were quarantined, but the rest of the squad was given the go-ahead to continue to train. When there was a positive at second-tier club Erzgebirge Aue, the whole squad went into quarantine.
Spectre of financial damage looms large
The DFL's CEO Christian Seifert has made it clear that failure to complete the current season would have serious consequences as regards the financial health of some clubs in the top two divisions. He has warned that "the Bundesliga could be part of the collateral damage of the coronavirus" and that several clubs in both divisions could face bankruptcy if the final tranche of TV money is not paid.
I understand that the final chunk of TV money has been split into three parts, two of which are conditional upon how many of the remaining games are completed, so the financial pressure has not been eased as much as some reports have suggested.
Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, a key figure in saving his club from bankruptcy back in 2005, has echoed Seifert's concerns. "If we don't play games soon," he warned, "the Bundesliga will drown."
Restart plan has failed to unify
The potential return of the Bundesliga has proven to be a divisive issue in German society, and even within football, not everyone is on the same page. Several opinion polls have shown a significant split between those to think May is far too soon for a return for pro football, and those who think it's an acceptable idea.
Considering the plan is to have games without fans, perhaps it's no surprise that fan groups aren't keen. Fanszenen Deutschland, who represent a number of fan groups, released a damning statement. "The era of football being completely detached from the rest of society must come to an end," they warned.
Some regional police chiefs have expressed concerns that fans could congregate at stadia, despite not being allowed into the actual grounds. In the only ghost game this season that has actually taken place, hundreds of fans gathered outside, as Borussia Monchengladbach overcame Rhineland rivals FC Koln.
Check out Kevin's look at the latest Bundesliga betting here.
Friday 16 August, 8.30pm