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Saturday, 04 July 2020

Bundesliga: Follow my lead

For the first time since March, football fans around the world saw their first professional league matches, reports Marawan Elshafei

Marawan Elshafei, Tuesday 19 May 2020
Bayern Munich
Union Berlin 0 – 2 Bayern Munich (photo: AP)
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The Bundesliga returned on Saturday 16 May, becoming the first major European league to reappear since football was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. There were six fixtures on Saturday and a further two on Sunday, all played behind closed doors.

The games were played under heavy precautions laid out by the German Football Association. A strict hygiene and safety protocol, including the banning of crowds, was necessary to get the go-ahead from the authorities.

In the past few weeks, the Covid-19 curve started to flatten in Germany which took a brave yet risky decision to resume the Bundesliga without fans in attendance. The association issued a lengthy list of the precautions the players, referees and managers should take:

 - It is forbidden to take a group photo of players before the game.

 -No shaking hands or hugs while celebrating goals.

 - Celebrate goals by touching the elbow or the foot of your teammate only.

 - Do not shake hands with players when making any substitutions.

 - No spitting on the field.

 - All people sitting on the bench are required to wear masks, taking into account the spacing between each person. The coach is allowed to uncover his nose and mouth when giving instructions, taking into account the spacing of distances.
 

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At the Bundesliga: Footballers have now invented new methods for goal celebrations while media continues following the sport and reporting from a distance

 

Thus, the league resumed, the 26th game week.

Football fans were eager to watch on their TVs the sport they had missed so much.

They weren’t just interested in watching the games but also to see the precautions the league was taking and whether that could be applied to other countries.

The first match to take place was Borussia Dortmund against Schalke in the Ruhr derby in the Signal Iduna Park.

Results of the first day:

Borussia Dortmund 4 – 0 Schalke

Augsburg 1 – 2 Wolfsburg

Düsseldorf 0 – 0 Padeborn

Hoffenheim 0 – 3 Hertha Berlin

Leipzig 1 – 1 Freiburg

Frankfurt 1 – 3 Borussia M’gladbach

Second day results:

Köln 2 – 2 Mainz

Union Berlin 0 – 2 Bayern Munich
 

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Eight matches remain in the Bundesliga. Bayern have 58 points, leading by four points over second place Borussia Dortmund.

Strict hygiene protocols saw the Dortmund and Schalke players arrive on multiple buses, use several changing rooms and then enter the pitch by different routes.

Warm-ups were staggered and the coaching staff and substitutes wore masks and were all separated by two metres when they were on the sidelines.

Once the balls had been disinfected by the ball-boys, the game began in total silence. Fans were completely absent from the 80,000-capacity stadium but that did not stop the Dortmund players performing their trademark salute to the empty stands at the final whistle.

There were 30 match balls placed around the stadium, each of them disinfected by ball-boys who placed them on special spots rather than giving them directly to the players.

A few journalists were permitted to attend, but counting players, staff and officials, there were only about 300 people in and around the stadium. Also camera men were less than usual.

Players and managers were interviewed by television reporters with microphones on poles, keeping a safe distance, while post-match news conferences were done by video conferencing.

It was a strange feeling as football resumed. Some were extremely happy to see football again while others were hesitant to resume sports with the pandemic still raging.

Reaction to the Bundesliga’s resumption was mixed on Twitter between enthusiasm and worry. Some believe that the return of the game was important on so many levels but some expect that the return of the game may worsen the pandemic and cause a second wave of the virus.

Football players were extremely happy that the game had returned, expressing as much on Twitter as they watched the first game on Saturday. Players from other leagues are now hoping to be back on the pitch as their fellow players in Germany.

The rest of the European leagues are now hoping to resume their game as they want to copy the German method, however, it won’t be that easy for countries like Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom which are still overwhelmed by the pandemic and are still suffering from thousands of infections and deaths every day.

The consequences of the Bundesliga’s return won’t be felt now as the experiment is still in its first days. In a few weeks the world will know how the return of football in Germany is working out. Some might regret the whole idea or look forward to resume other sports competitions.

The only thing most people agreed on regarding the return of the Bundesliga was that it is not the game people wanted but the only kind they can have at the moment.

When the pandemic hit Europe in February, football associations and leagues in the continent at first did not pay much attention to the virus or its risks. In Italy where hospitals were soon to be overwhelmed, some matches continued to be played which eventually led to a huge leap in infections.

In March, things went out of control in most European countries, especially Spain, Italy and the UK.

These countries decided to halt sports events including football matches.

After two months of quarantine and lockdowns, European football clubs started to suffer financially and wondered aloud how to extricate themselves from the crisis. Although the situation is not yet resolved, most football clubs want to get back to the game in order to stem their financial losses.

By Sunday May 17, there were 8,000 confirmed deaths from coronavirus in Germany with close to 177,000 infections.

The figures are far less than in some of Europe’s worst hit countries.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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