A May return for the Bundesliga hasn't been ruled out, but as Kevin Hatchard explains, the season in Germany's top-flight isn't certain to be completed.
"The DFL have worked hard , in conjunction with medical experts, to produce a credible restart plan. Their hopes of bringing Bundesliga football back now rest with the governments at national and state level."
German football bosses prepared for restart
The DFL (Deutsche Fussball Liga) 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 would 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.
A special task force, led by Professor Tim Meyer (part of the German national team's medical staff), has produced a detailed and extensive 50-page document that explains exactly what clubs and players need to do to minimise the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Players would be given an antibody test for the virus on the day before a match, with the results arriving early the following day. 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.
It's not yet clear what happens if a player or indeed several players contract the virus. It appears the decision whether to quarantine an entire squad will lie with the relevant local health authority.
Government yet to give green light
In a meeting on April 30 between Angela Merkel's federal government and the heads of the state governments, no definite position was taken on the Bundesliga's proposal. It is expected that it will be discussed in detail next Wednesday, when the governments meet again. While the DFL had initially mooted a restart date on May 9, it's important to remember that this was a suggestion, rather than a definite date. In reality, the DFL always knew that date could be pushed back, and privately they are more than happy to restart later in the month.
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. Betting.betfair understands 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."
Early return not universally popular
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 Rheinland rivals FC Koln. There are also concerns among some politicians regarding the optics of giving football the opportunity to restart, while other sectors of business remain inactive.
Bayern in command if and when season restarts
I've looked at the Bundesliga's story so far this season on the pitch in detail here, but Bayern Munich are worthy favourites to retain their league title at [1.12]. Coach Hansi Flick has now signed his contract to coach the team on a permanent basis, and that's a justifiable reward for his excellent work.
Borussia Dortmund [7.4] are four points off top spot, but still have a home game to come against Bayern, while RB Leipzig [10.0] are a point further back.