The coronavirus has turned the world upside down, with sports leagues being no different.
However, Germany’s Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 leagues are set to resume play this weekend and will finish the season by June 30. A 50-page manual will direct how each team is to handle the virus, the twenty Bundesliga teams have already been self-quarantined in preparation of the re-starting the season. But Germany’s lower division is already in trouble with Dynamo Dresden’s entire squad going into 14-day quarantine due to two new team coronavirus cases, meaning the team could miss as many as three of their remaining nine matches in an abbreviated timetable. The German Football League (DFL) have announced how they will proceed later this week, which raises doubt as to how leagues worldwide can adapt given the continued presence of the virus. And even with initial team quarantines and on-going testing, there is no blueprint for the competition of the Bundesliga season should the same issue arise in the top-flight Bundesliga.
In England, Operation Restart is modeled much like the Bundesliga. The current plan is for the second-division Championship League to commence play on June 6th, with all 24 teams having nine games left to complete their season. It is widely believed that the lower divisions of English football will see their seasons end without any continuation. For the top-flight English Premier League, however, the discussions continue over when the season will resume or if the remaining matches will be played on neutral ground. While it is expected that the EPL will re-start their season, the start date of those matches and their locations have yet to be agreed upon. But like the rest of the leagues, the one sure thing is that they will be played in empty stadiums without the presence of fans.
Spain’s La Liga teams have begun training individually, with team training expected to resume later next week. Both Liga 1 is hoping to restart their seasons on June 12th. Games would be played every day of the week to allow the 11 remaining matchdays in the 2019-20 season to be completed by the end of July, with teams given 72 hours’ rest between matches. Ahead of a return to training, all 42 teams across Spain’s top two divisions underwent coronavirus testing last week. La Liga said on Sunday that five players had tested positive for the coronavirus, with all of them being asymptomatic and in the final stages of the illness. Footballers who test positive will remain at home and be subjected to further testing, being able to join their teammates when they have given two negative results, 72 hours apart.
Serie A in Italy plans to resume its season on June 13 if Italy’s government approves. The league’s general assembly met today via videoconference and approved the date for resumption “in accordance with government decisions and medical protocols”. Clubs in the Italian top-flight returned to training earlier in May but players can only train individually, with team training scheduled to begin next Monday. Serie A was suspended on March 9 with 12 full rounds and four outstanding fixtures still to play. Last week, three Fiorentina players and three members of the club’s support staff tested positive for coronavirus, while a Torino player also tested positive. Italy’s Minister of Sport has already said that one positive test result when the season re-starts would be enough for him to pull the plug on the rest of the Serie A matches, saying that the risk of re-infection would be too high to justify a resumption of play.
It should be made clear that the one thing all of these leagues have in common is the precarious financial condition of some of the teams within the respective league. While there will be no attendance revenue to add to the team coffers, it is the television and media revenue that will be enough to salvage the season and keep the teams afloat. In Germany, the league president has said that 13 of the 36 teams in the top two leagues might have to fold without additional income, and it has been estimated that around 40% of the top two league teams would also suffer financial distress should they be denied their television revenue. Serie A is in similar shape, although no figures have been released. With other leagues in Europe already suspending their season, one has to wonder how much of the re-started seasons is predicated upon club finances.