Editorial — The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have passed in Europe. Across the continent, many countries are reporting a significant decrease in their new case numbers and slowly reopening. Some of them are taking it slower, others are already reopening their borders to foreign visitors flocking to their most popular tourist destinations for a well-deserved vacation.
In many countries, the soccer seasons that were suspended due to the public health measures taken in response to the pandemic are also resuming, with the health and safety of the players in the focus. This is seen as not the best idea by many, though, pointing out that the novel coronavirus is about as unpredictable as the result of a game of Football Star at the Vegas Palms Casino.
One of the conditions for the soccer players’ return to the turf is that they must test negative for the novel coronavirus. This requirement will likely decimate the number of potential players across Europe, though. Several reports have emerged over the last few weeks about players testing positive for the disease: there are reports about five players in Spain, two new EFL players and four Premier League players in England, and several players from Italy.
All over Europe, soccer games will resume in the coming week or two — and all of them will be held on empty stadiums, with no fans present. Even the staff broadcasting the matches will have to use remote cameras and comment on the matches from a different location to minimize the number of people at the stadiums.
While this situation certainly beats “no soccer at all”, the atmosphere at the stadium will indeed be different — or, as Bayern Munich star Thomas Mueller put it after the first match the team played against Union Berlin last month, “It felt a bit like the atmosphere you get for old man’s football.”
Taking the blame?
Soccer is a very popular sport that traditionally attracts massive in-person attendance. While clubs will be able to stop supporters from entering the stadiums during matches, they won’t be able to enforce distancing among those potentially gathering outside. This may turn them into scapegoats in the case of a new flareup of the disease.
A soccer match was already blamed — rightly, by the way — to contribute significantly to the spread of the virus in Italy. The February 19 game where Italy’s Atalanta hosted Spanish team Valencia at the San Siro Stadium in Milan saw almost a third of Bergamo’s population gather in Milan, turning the city into one of the epicenters of the disease in Italy. Plus, more than a third of the visiting Spanish team’s players also got infected.
Is it too early for soccer to return? It may not be if all the safety measures are respected to the letter. But don’t expect to sit on the grandstands and cheer for your favorite team any time soon.