Over the last few days, speculation has been growing that the Bundesliga would announce its return for early May, having been suspended since the beginning of March. This was despite several setbacks, including 10 members of German clubs testing positive in the first round of testing. The conference call to make the decision took place this morning, and though early May is off the table, the Bundesliga has been given the go ahead to return this month.
During today’s Minsterpräsidentenrunde, Merkel and the state premiers gave the green light for “ghost games” to take place from May 15th onwards, having approved the DFL’s hygiene rules. The resumption of the league is conditional on the strict following of these hygiene rules, as well as all clubs following a two-week quarantine measure. It is therefore possible that we may see the Bundesliga return on 16th May, however, it is more likely that the league will commence from 22nd May, to give everyone sufficient time to prepare (Werder Bremen & Paderborn have yet to begin training again).
This decision comes as part of the wider reopening of the economy and the gradual return to normality. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, met with the 16 state premiers, and gave the states more freedom to decide when to lift restrictions. However, she has also warned that a spike in the numbers could see the restrictions brought back in. Bloomberg reports that an outbreak of more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a given region will result in the restrictions being reinstated. This shows that the situation is pretty precarious, and Germany isn’t out of danger yet. Germany also reported a small rise in cases in recent days, so there’s some way to go yet.
These decisions come at a complicated moment for German politics and the chancellor herself. Prior to this crisis, Merkel’s popularity had declined, and she had agreed to move aside and let a new leader take the reigns. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had been in the process of deciding on who that leader would be, but then the pandemic struck, and the race has temporarily cooled off. However, that hasn’t stopped potential candidates from jostling for power and favor during the crisis, in particular the Bavarian state premier, Markus Soeder. This has led to some tensions between Merkel and the state premiers. It’s not clear how much of what is going on is the result of these power struggles, but it seems as though they are playing a part in the decisions. Nonetheless, Merkel has done a fantastic job so far, and this is reflected in recent polls (though some of this may be a “rally round the flag” response that we’re seeing in many countries).
While Merkel’s excellent handling of the crisis has been noted, it’s not clear that these measures will be received so well. Though Die Welt has claimed that there is now very little debate over the restart of the Bundesliga, this doesn’t seem to be entirely true. Kicker has run an admittedly non-scientific poll on the issue, and currently 55% of respondents are in favor of the restart, while 45% are against it. Looking for more concrete evidence of public sentiment,results from a survey by the research institute, Infratest dimap, find that 49% of fans were not in favor of games without spectators (with 33% in favor). Interestingly, this is a sharp decline from earlier results from the same question asked at the beginning of April. There has also been doubts raised by the players themselves and the global players’ union FIFPro.
According to Die Welt, the first game back will be Paderborn vs Fortuna Dusseldorf, on Friday 22nd May, followed by fixtures on the Saturday, including the Revierderby! The Saturday evening match will then be Bayern Munich vs Union Berlin. So there’s plenty to look forward to.
This makes the Bundesliga the first of the big European football leagues to return to action, and the first major sports league around the world. This could prove to be of huge benefit to both the first and second division of German football. Not only will this ensure that the clubs don’t lose out on broadcast and sponsorship revenue, but it also promises the possibility of huge boost in global audiences, as the thirst for sports brings new fans to whatever major league they can find on television. Here’s hoping Fox Sports don’t mess this one up, because it could be of real benefit to the Bundesliga’s growth in the US.
I’ve remained relatively cautious over the prospect of restarting the Bundesliga, and I’m not sure any of this really changes my position on the matter. I am concerned that the restrictions are being lifted more because of the pressure Merkel has faced from state premiers (and those vying for her job). However, Germany has handled the crisis better than any other country in Europe so far, so if anyone can pull this off it is them. For now, the good news is that Dortmund’s players are well rested and ready to take on local rivals Schalke, and mount a last push to oust Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title.