BERLIN: The Bundesliga season will restart on May 16, the German Football League (DFL) said on Thursday, becoming the first European league to resume amid the coronavirus epidemic.
The DFL said the season would resume under the terms of a strict health protocol that bans fans from the stadium, with several matches including the high-profile Ruhr valley derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 taking place on the relaunch day.
While it was no normal restart given the empty stands and other restrictions, it was crucial to resume play, DFL CEO Christian Seifert told a news conference.
“The interest (globally) is big. I see reports from across the world that we are the first major league to return,” Seifert said. “This can only happen because we have the privilege to live in one of the most modern health systems in the world.”
He was speaking by video conference after a meeting with first and second division clubs following the government’s decision on Wednesday to give the green light for the Bundesliga to restart and throw a financial lifeline to the cash-strapped clubs.
All teams will have to have go into a seven-day training camp in complete isolation prior to May 16 and with all players being tested before their inclusion in the camps, to reduce the risk of any infection.
About 300 people, including players, staff and officials, will be in and around the stadiums during matchdays.
“The matches will feel different. After the first matchday we will all know why we prefer games with fans,” Seifert said. “But that is the framework we have to operate in and I expect the best possible sport within this framework.”
The DFL is desperate to finish the season by June 30 to be contractually in compliance with sponsors and broadcasters and because more than 100 players’ contracts are running out on that date, Seifert said.
The DFL has warned any further delay could be “existence-threatening” for some clubs.
“The season finale will take place at the end of June,” Seifert said, with June 27-28 as a likely date. He said ideally he hoped the new season to start some time in August but a date had not been finalised.
The league has been on hold since mid-March because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has brought football to a standstill around the world.
Germany’s progress in resuming matches is likely to be closely watched by other leagues.
The country’s professional teams have been training since mid-April, divided into small groups and under strict conditions, including extensive COVID-19 testing of all players and coaching staff.
The country has reported more than 166,000 infections and more than 7,000 deaths, and officials said on Thursday the coronavirus crisis was far from over despite the country slowly reopening its economy and trying to get life back to normal.
Bayern Munich, chasing an eighth successive title and taking on Union Berlin on Sunday May 17, currently lead the table with 55 points from 25 games, four ahead of Borussia Dortmund with RB Leipzig third on 50. There are nine rounds of matches left to play.