Thanks to Germany’s effective response to the coronavirus crisis, the 36 clubs that comprise the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga have been granted approval to return to competition. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and representatives from the nation’s 16 states met Wednesday and gave the thumbs-up, paving the way for play to commence behind closed doors on May 15 or 22.
The start date is expected to be firmed up by the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) on Thursday. It’s unclear whether teams will resume their schedules where they left off when competition was suspended March 13, or if match dates will be reshuffled. Bayern Munich (17-4-4) currently holds a four-point lead over Borussia Dortmund atop the Bundesliga, with RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach hanging on to the other Champions League places. There are nine rounds left to play.
The DFB also hopes to finish its Cup competition. The tournament has reached the semifinal stage.
"Today's decision is good news for the Bundesliga and the 2. Bundesliga,” DFL CEO Christian Seifert said. “[The decision] is associated with a great responsibility for the clubs and their employees to implement the medical and organizational requirements in a disciplined manner. Games without spectators are not an ideal solution for anyone.
“In a crisis threatening the very existence of some clubs, however, it is the only way to keep the leagues in their current form,” Seifert continued. “On this day, I would like to thank the political decision makers from the federal and state governments for their trust.”
The Bundesliga will be the first globally significant sports league to return to competition following suspension. It’s broadcast in more than 200 countries. It’s not the first overall, however. South Korea’s KBO League, the nation’s 10-team baseball circuit, returned to the diamond last weekend to begin its 2020 season. And its soccer league, the K-League, is set to start Friday. Meanwhile, soccer leagues in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Nicaragua never stopped. The Nicaraguan champion will be determined Saturday.
Germany has handled the pandemic better than most, which is why the Bundesliga is the only one of Europe’s major leagues ready to go. According to the World Health Organization, Germany has suffered just under 7,000 coronavirus deaths. France, Italy, Spain and the UK—the homes of soccer’s other high-profile European leagues—are each between 25,000 and 30,000. France’s Ligue 1 and the Netherlands' Eredivisie have already canceled the rest of their seasons.
“We’re very pleased that the people in Germany—and, from a regional point of view, the people in Dortmund and the surrounding area—have conducted themselves so magnificently in recent weeks that the spread of the pandemic could at least be contained,” Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said. “It is only thanks to the incredible discipline on the part of the population that we can now, gradually and in small steps, move on to another form of normality. Many industries are now slowly starting up again in compliance with strict rules, and this applies to professional football too.”
That discipline will have to continue. Protocols are being established that cover every person and position permitted inside a stadium, and quarantines of at least a week will be required for all club personnel ahead of the first game. The goal is to finish the season by the end of June. The DFL reportedly intends to test players and staff twice a week until then.
Players have been training alone or in small groups for several weeks. On Monday, the DFL announced that there were 10 positive tests among 1,724 administered toward the end of last week. FC Köln revealed that three of those positives came from the Bundesliga club. Each individual was symptom-free and was placed into 14-day quarantine. A second wave of tests was conducted and all came back negative, the club said. Full training is scheduled to begin Thursday.