Football is coming back – on May 16.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the premiers of Germany's 16 states had announced on Wednesday that they had given the green light for the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 to restart in mid-May. A day later, representatives of the 36 clubs in the top two divisions met via video conference to disuss the details of a resumption of play. Following that meeting, German Football League (DFL) CEO Christian Seifert used a video conference with the media to unveil a revised schedule.
The Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke will be among the first set of fixtures on May 16 as the Bundesliga dispenses with its normal Friday night game in its first weekend back. Some had expressed concerns about such a fiery local-rival clash being so early in the restart given social-distancing concerns. However, the DFL is essentially trying to restart where the season was interrupted, on Matchday 26.
"We'll all know after the first day of play why we like games with spectators much better," said Seifert, in reference to the fact that all matches will be played behind closed doors.
Werder Bremen’s home fixture with Bayer Leverkusen is to be played a couple of days later, on Monday May 18. Seifert said this had come in view of the fact that the city-state of Bremen had taken longer to approve a return to training than had been the case in many of the other states.
The Bundesliga hopes to complete its season on the weekend of June 27 and 28 and the DFL is expected to announce shortly whether it will allow five substitutions rather than three for the remainder of the campaign.
Seifert, who had described Wednesday as a "good day for the Bundesliga," noted on Thursday that "the decision to return means economic survival for many clubs."
'Playing on probation'
On the other hand he was careful to address the skepticism that exists in many quarters in Germany.
"It's a great responsibility for the clubs to implement the medical and organizational guidelines in a disciplined manner," Seifert said, referring to the DFL's plans to restart play behind closed doors and in accordance with strict hygiene protocols as well as – to whatever extent is possible – physical distancing.
"Every matchday is a chance to prove that we deserve the next matchday," he added. Everyone has to be clear. We're playing on probation."
Quarantine and regular testing
Under the DFL's plan to protect the health of all involved, the games are only to go ahead after players have undergone a sufficient quarantine period in the form of training camps. Originally that period had been 14 days, but one week may also be possible with regular testing and negative test results.
Wednesday's political green light came as the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Germany dropped below 1,000 per day for the first time since mid-March.
Players change perception
The decision to resume play also followed a weekend that had threatened to blow the planned restart off course. First, Cologne midfielder Birger Verstraete voiced concerns on Belgian TV, only to backtrack on them. Then, on Monday, Hertha Berlin's Salomon Kalou streamed a live video on Facebook that revealed players fist-bumping and social-distancing rules not being observed.
The DFL announced on Monday that the first wave of testing had been completed, with 10 cases of COVID-19 confirmed from approximately 1,700 tests. On Thursday it said that two more people had tested positive in the second wave, taking the total to 12.
This raised the question as to what would happen if there were to be several COVID-19 cases on any one team. Seifert said the team in question would be required to play its games, as long as as they had enough fit players to do so. Such is the case under normal circumstances.
Finances a factor
Approximately €300 million ($325 million) in outstanding TV revenue is at stake should the season not be completed, according to German reports. The DFL had ensured the liquidity of its 36 clubs until the end of June by reaching a deal with media partners over the final TV payment, but those funds are contingent on the completion of the season.
Some Bundesliga fan groups though, are opposed to a return behind closed doors and see this as an opportunity for change.
The Bundesliga has not held a match since March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nine matchdays remain in both of Germany's top two divisions.