Road to recovery: Will Germany’s Bundesliga restart in May?

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Update 4/30/2020: This article has been updated to include information from the April 30 meeting of the German government.

A meeting set for Thursday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of German states could have major ramifications for the sporting world regarding COVID-19.

German stores under 800 square feet in size were allowed to reopen April 20 as the nation began its slow return to normalcy. Many are still required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but a reinstatement of ordinary life — albeit a cautious one – seems to be in the cards.

A robust national response in Germany, including mass testing, has seen the country retain a rate of only 3.8% of COVID-19 related deaths, despite high infection rates. The country’s response has also helped the infection rate decrease in recent weeks.

But small shops and stores are not the only organizations which may reopen. The Bundesliga 1 and 2, Germany’s top two football leagues, have also submitted plans to finish their seasons behind closed doors. Such a plan would see play resume on May 9, pending government approval.

In their meeting on April 30, however, the German government elected to postpone a decision to a May 6 meeting, making the May 9 start date unlikely. A May restart date may still be on the cards, however.

Multiple teams throughout both leagues are struggling financially, and although players are taking wage cuts, concerns remain that without a restart and the resulting television revenue, several clubs will be in dire financial straits.

The plans laid out by the DFB, the governing body for German football, are comprehensive and include testing before match days, limiting personnel, eliminating crowds and rigorous, specific guidelines for transportation and preparation of players. Checking temperatures and disinfecting shared spaces will also take place regularly.

While many officials have indicated support for the proposal, concerns remain.

“Decisive is that the infection risk is minimized,” said German health minister Jens Spahn in a statement to media outlet Deutsche Welle.

Before the suspension on March 13, German clubs had attempted to play games without crowds, but fans still gathered outside stadiums to celebrate. This also occurred at other stadiums across the continent, effectively defeating the purpose of playing without crowds.

But steps would also be taken to mitigate these gatherings. In a statement to CBS, German football club Bayer 04 Leverkusen said most of the mandatory personnel would be employed to ensure such impromptu gatherings would not occur.

Ultimately, the fate of these proposals will fall to the German government, which could have an opportunity to approve or disapprove the plan Thursday.

The DFL has stated that it is more than ready to proceed with a May 9 restart. Should that date be approved, fans around the world will surely mark it on their calendars. After a month without sports, many are eager to virtually come together and share in the distractions, wonders and experiences they provide.

The Bundesliga’s reopening could also provide a framework for other leagues in and outside of the country, although it bears remembering that Germany’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has included widespread testing and treatment which other nations have not been able to match.

For as long as the pandemic plagues our world, concerns and questions will remain. What increased risk of COVID-19 infection would be created by restarting the Bundesliga? How does that compare to the financial boon German football would receive and the emotional uplift fans would experience? These may be questions pondered Thursday, but only time will reveal the answers.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].