Masks, tests, empty stadiums: Bundesliga resumes amid virus

BERLIN (AP) – No fans, no hugging, no spitting.

The Bundesliga will be very different when it resumes today following a two-month suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

There will be no children to accompany players onto the field, no contact between rivals in the tunnel before games, no handshakes with the referee or match officials, substitutes will have to wear masks and sit apart, and even goals in the empty stadiums will be sombre affairs – players have been warned to keep their emotions in check.

Coaches will be permitted to remove their masks to shout instructions at their players – as long as they stay at least 1.5 metres away.

To compensate for the lack of atmosphere, Sky TV says it will offer viewers a new audio option with pre-recorded fan chants, singing and reactions based on the games. Borussia Mönchengladbach will have artificial cut-outs of real supporters in the stands for its remaining home matches.

Most fans don’t even want the league to resume – the latest polls from German broadcasters show a growing majority are against it – but football authorities were desperate to get back on track with several clubs, including Bundesliga club Schalke, already on the brink financially.

Portraits of fans of German Bundesliga soccer club Borussia Moenchengladbach are set on the supporters tribune in the stadium in Moenchengladbach, Germany. PHOTO: AP

Chancellor Angela Merkel finally gave the go-ahead to restart the season on May 6 after taking note of Germany’s dropping rate in new infections for COVID-19, though she made it clear that football was low down on her list of priorities.

The last Bundesliga game was played on March 11 as the virus was beginning to take hold in Germany. Unaware, or perhaps indifferent to the danger, hundreds of Borussia Mönchengladbach fans gathered outside their closed stadium as their team defeated Cologne 2-1. Gladbach players even celebrated with supporters afterward in scenes that authorities are determined won’t be repeated.

“We’re playing on probation,” league CEO Christian Seifert said.

Local authorities have the power to derail the clubs’ stated aim to finish the regular season by the end of June.

Second-division club Dynamo Dresden is undergoing 14 days of quarantine after two more players tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday, placing its participation in the league in doubt.

Efforts to restart the third division are being hampered because clubs like Carl Zeiss Jena, Magdeburg and Hallescher FC are not allowed to train. A spat has developed with the German football federation, which wanted the division to resume on May 26.

The country’s top clubs don’t face such issues.

With nine games of the season remaining, Bayern Munich plays at Union Berlin tomorrow with a four-point lead at the top of the standings.

Second-place Borussia Dortmund hosts Schalke for the Ruhr derby today. Third-place Leipzig, which is a point further behind, hosts Freiburg, and Gladbach, another point back, visits Frankfurt, also today.

But there’s no guarantee that all nine remaining rounds will be played.

The league has put off a decision on what will happen if play is suspended again or the rest of the season is called off. The standings would most likely stand, with the top team named champion and the bottom two relegated.

Teams were preparing for the restart in quarantine conditions this week. Augsburg coach Heiko Herrlich was due to make his debut in charge against Wolfsburg today, but he will miss the game after breaking quarantine restrictions to buy toiletries.