The impact of coronavirus on elite football continues to dominate discussions. Arguments about how to restart and complete the Premier League, in addition to other top leagues around the world, remain a constant there appears to be no clear answer to the problem.
French Ligue 1 and 2 cancelled this week. Elsewhere, the Dutch Eredivisie and the Belgian Pro leagues postponed their 2019/20 seasons indefinitely earlier in April. The outcome of the remaining top-leagues in Europe remains unclear.
However, the argument for beginning the leagues from grassroots first, followed by the bottom of the league pyramid and then the elite leagues, was made this week. Dr Brian McCloskey, former health director for the 2012 Olympics, argued for sports to begin from the lower levels first.
The Case for a ‘Bottom-Up’ Approach to Restart Football
Less travel, less organisation and fewer people are involved in organising and participating in amateur and grassroots football. The higher the standard of football, the more people need to be involved (coaches, backroom staff, medical staff, safety personnel, camera crews, broadcasters etc.)
Therefore, the safer decision would be to resume football from the bottom first, then, once safe, re-introduce the semi-professional and professional leagues.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr McCloskey said: “The bigger the match, the bigger the competition, the more complicated those mitigating actions will have to be – and therefore the less likely it is that they can be done safely.
“So, an event that involves lots of travel across the country, or between countries, is much more complicated.
“A local event – community football, a community running – is much easier to see how that happens. Bigger events will be a challenge this summer.”
Despite the argument, lower league football in England (steps five to eight) already ended. Government guidelines do not currently permit any forms of team sport.
The Dangers of Coronavirus and Top-Level Football
There is too much at stake for the elite leagues to scrap their respective seasons. Football, in general, and clubs continue to suffer financially due to coronavirus. But there is also the complication of relegation, promotion, titles and play-offs.
The Premier League are planning ‘Project Restart’, hopeful of resuming fixtures in June. Elsewhere, the German Bundesliga could return as early as May 9th behind closed doors. This depends on the government approving the return of the league this week.
In Spain and Italy, La Liga and Serie A teams remain hopeful of their leagues re-starting in late May or early June.
While this leads to urgency amongst clubs and the top leagues to conclude their seasons, there are clear physical risks to resuming and contracting infection via contact.
Fifa’s chief doctor, Michel d’Hooghe, also raised doubts about the return of professional football this season. He told the BBC: “There is a risk and it is not a risk that has small consequences
“It can have consequences of life and death and that is why I am so careful and I ask everyone to be very careful before deciding to play again.”