Thousands of people in a confined space makes for ideal conditions for the spread of the coronavirus, but for weeks the advice has been ignored. Holding games behind closed doors now is too late, writes Joscha Weber.
Of course there is another way. Commemoration ceremonies, masses, church services, congresses, concerts, tennis tournaments, bicycle races, marathons and many other major events have been canceled due to the outbreak of the new corona virus in recent weeks. As unwieldy as Sars-CoV-2 may sound, the virus is now omnipresent. The number of cases is increasing rapidly in many countries, including Germany. But the biggest events in Germany have continued to be held as if nothing new had happened. For weeks the Bundesliga has simply ignored the danger posed by the coronavirus.
Last weekend, 363,043 spectators turned out to the nine matches in Germany's top football league, packed together in crowded stands, in front of bratwurst stands or in trams. Then they returned home to their families, went back to work, to university or to school. You couldn't make things any easier for the virus.
In Germany, there has been little more than lip service ("we're taking the situation seriously") or deception (players ordered not to take selfies with fans). Everyone involved has shied away from taking effective measures to contain the virus. While in France and Italy matches are being played behind closed doors, tens of thousands of people will make their way to the stadium in Stuttgart on Monday evening and Leipzig on Tuesday evening — maybe even in Mönchengladbach a day later. With all we know about this virus, this is utterly irresponsible.
The Bundesliga turns a blind eye
The coronavirus crisis didn't turn up in Germany overnight. There have been reports of its spread in China since the start of this year and six weeks ago the first case was reported in Germany. Now there are more than 1,000 confirmed cases here and this number is rising rapidly. In a DW interview almost a fortnight ago, virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit called for Bundesliga matches to be canceled, but the German Football League (DFL) ignored it. Instead, the DFL chose to put the onus on the health authorities.
The problem is, the authorities have been playing the same game.
"Whether they play without spectators or not is up to the club, not me," Karl-Josef Laumann said on a talk show that aired on German public television on Sunday evening. Laumann is the health minister in North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus. And so everyone is passing the buck.
Cologne sporting director Horst Heldt hit the nail on the head when he said on Monday that: "I find what we are doing at the moment to be consistently inconsistent." However, he too is waiting for a decision from the authorities, and doesn't see the onus as being on his club, which happens to be based in the middle of the region in which the virus is rapidly spreading.
Business must go on
It is a cynical game that's being played with people's health and it's being driven not least by economic interests, because playing games behind closed doors costs a lot of money. Under their general terms and conditions of doing business, almost all of the clubs have committed to refunding their fans' tickets in such cases. Not just that, but the clubs stand to lose further revenue through merchandising or catering. Revenue generated in stadiums on matchdays adds up to €520 million ($594 million)per season (2018-2019). When FIFA President Gianni Infantino turns around and says that health is "more important than any football match," one can't help but to question the sincerity with which such statements are uttered.
Even if, after much hesitation, German football now decides to play matches behind closed doors for the time being, the decision to finally take effective action to contain the virus has come far too late. And, by the way, it is also "consistently inconsistent" because the players, coaches and support staff can still infect each other. To avoid any doubt, the DFL stated this past weekend that there was "no question that the season would be completed mid-May as scheduled." Business simply must go on.