German Soccer League to Restart in Mid-May Under Coronavirus Rules

CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images
Bayern Munich players carrying out "social distanced" training in early April

The Bundesliga will be one of the first major sporting leagues worldwide to resume play following the COVID-19 shutdown after government officials gave the greenlight Wednesday.

German pro soccer league the Bundesliga has received the greenlight to resume games in mid-May.

The German government Wednesday confirmed that the Bundesliga can begin play, which has been suspended since March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. It will be one of the first major sporting leagues worldwide to get back to business.

The restart is planned for next weekend, May 16-17, with the current season to wrap up by June 30. There are nine match days left to be played in the 2019-2020 season.

The league's 51-page reopening plan will see stadiums introduce biological controls similar to those required by medical facilities. Matches will be held without fans and under strict safety conditions, including frequent testing of players, coaches, referees and support staff. Stadiums will be allowed to have 330 people, including security, club employees, teams and staff. Measures also will be taken to prevent fans from gathering outside of the stadium and ensure social distancing in an attempt to try and prevent the virus from spreading.

A key aspect of the reopening plan will see players kept in quarantine, in an isolated training camp or similar, for the remainder of the season..

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the news following a teleconference with state leaders Wednesday.

The Bundesliga will be the first major European soccer league, and one of the first major sporting leagues worldwide, to resume play following the COVID-19 shutdown. The German league has been ahead of its European counterparts in doing widespread testing for coronavirus infection and in organizing a plan to safely return to the field. Some clubs, including Bayer Leverkusen, had been planning for the possibility of a pandemic for some time. Bayer already set up a coronavirus delegation in February to prepare for an eventual outbreak.

In neighboring France, Ligue 1 called its season off after the prime minister banned all sporting events until September. Seasons in the Netherlands and Belgium have also been called off.

England's Premier League is expected to decide Friday whether it can finish up the current season. In Spain and Italy, there have been cautious moves toward returning to play, with players in Spain allowed to begin solo training this week.

The Bundesliga ruling will be welcomed by German rights holders, including Comcast-owned Sky Deutschland and online streamer Dazn, which will carry the 80-odd matches remaining in the 2019-2020 Bundesliga season. Public broadcaster ZDF also has the rights to air a final Friday match.

The current season was suspended with title defenders Bayern Munich holding a four-point lead over rival Borussia Dortmund. The German Cup, a cross-league tournament, is in the semifinal stage with Bayern to face Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen going up against FC Saarbrücken.

But not everyone is pleased with the decision. On Monday, the Bundesliga released results of some 1,700 COVID-19 tests at the 36 clubs in the Bundesliga's top two divisions, which showed 10 positive results. The majority of the positive cases are believed to be asymptomatic. In a statement on its website, the league said a second wave of tests would be carried out this week.

Salomon Kalou, a forward for top-tier team Hertha Berlin, caused online controversy Monday when he posted a video, since deleted, on social media, in which he appeared to interrupt a coronavirus test and disregard social distancing rules by shaking hands with teammates. In a statement, the league called Kalou's actions "completely unacceptable" and said there was no tolerance for violation of the new regulations.

Bundesliga teams have been preparing for their return for several weeks, practicing at their clubs' training grounds, in limited groups of five players, using specially-designed drills that respect social distancing rules.

The Bundesliga had warned of financial catastrophe if it was not allowed to finish the current season. Smaller clubs rely heavily on the television revenue that comes from live match broadcasts. In an interview with The New York Times, Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert estimated that the loss would amount to just over $815 million (750 million euros) if the season was canceled, a shortfall he claimed would lead to an immediate financial crisis for around one in three teams in the top two divisions.