The German Football League (DFL) is in discussion with the health authorities to develop a concept to open matches for spectators at Bundesliga matches in the 2020-21 season or before.
“In view of falling infection figures, the DFL has already entered into dialogue with the Federal Ministry of Health with a view to gradually admitting spectators to the matches of both leagues with the start of the 2020-21 season,” DFL managing director Christian Seifert (51) wrote in a three-page letter to the 36 clubs in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga Kicker reported on Tuesday.
In light of the gradual lifting of Corona restrictions in normal life, such as the reopening of department stores and museums on May 6, and the end of the travel ban to other EU countries, which will be lifted on Monday 15 June, the debate about a return of spectators to the stadiums is also gaining momentum.
In an interview with regional newspaper Westfaelische Allgemeine Zeitung, Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer was quoted at the weekend: “I already have the confidence in my heart that we can gradually allow spectators to return in the new season,” adding: “Not immediately, not like before the Corona pandemic, but with reduced spectator numbers and in such a way that social-distancing can be maintained in the football grounds”.
The DFL has also announced that they will loosen the stringent hygiene concept which so far has ensured that the Bundesliga clubs have to date been able to carry out their fixtures without incident. In consultation with the federal health ministry, the DFL plans to adapt the regulations to less stringent restrictions in society as a whole according to Kicker. Proposed changes include the waiving of the need for wearing masks by substitute players provided the minimum distance is observed.
In addition, the DFL is also looking to loosen the restrictions on the number of those attending matches including support staff and media, currently restricted to 322 and admitting more journalists, currently restricted to ten and more photographers (currently three). The number of club delegates, which is currently restricted to eight for the home club and four for the visiting club, is also likely to be increased. The number admitted is still likely to remain a “highly sensitive issue”, Seifert is quoted.
Although no concrete steps to readmit fans to Bundesliga matches have been announced, the DFL is keen to restart as soon as possible. Losses between the 36 clubs of the top two tiers from the enforced break and playing matches without fans, so far amount to over €100m, according to the DFL. Fans are expected to be readmitted at least in part by the start of season 20-21 on 11 September. The start of the campaign was originally scheduled 21 August.
The matches behind closed doors have drawn large TV audiences with Borussia Dortmund’s first game of the restart against Schalke 04 drawing an audience of 3.81m. Fans who are are eager to return to matches will be encouraged by the debate taking place between the DFL and German health authorities to reintroduce fans, notwithstanding whatever format an agreement will be reached on in the coming months.
Fans divided on attendance
No position has been forthcoming on the readmission of fans from Borussia Dortmund. However, Ruhr Nachrichten published a poll on Wednesday showing a partisan view amongst the newspaper’s readers. 48 per cent of readers are in favour of season ticket holders being readmitted to matches, opposed to only 12 per cent in favour of tickets being sold to the general public.
Over concerns that the admission of fans to matches could once again trigger the already heated debate in Germany on the ‘Sonderstatus’, the special role of football in the Corona crisis, where the return in recent weeks of football in the top three tiers has resulted in protests by other sports and the entertainment industry, who are still subject to quarantine laws and are affected by the resulting financial fallout.
In order to avoid further controversy, the clubs in the Bundesliga and 2. Liga have been asked to take a cautious approach and not get fans expectations up too soon. Kicker reports that the league boss is asking clubs in Germany’s top two tiers to “not to provide any concrete figures or dates at this time until an agreement has been reached with the health authorities”.
Success of German model lends hope for international competitions to continue
The German approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely praised. In spite of 186,000 infections in the country, only 8831 patients died as a result of contracting the virus. The UK, in contrast, had 29,261 fatalities from 154,591 cases — or 108 per thousand of the population compared to 602 in the UK.
The success of the German authorities has been attributed to early action taken to introduce social distancing, wide-spread testing and cooperation between the regional health authorities to limit the spread of the disease in particular amongst the most vulnerable. As a result, the Bundesliga was the first league to restore play by May 16 when matches kicked off again after a two-month break.
The German football league has been widely praised in the international football community, including by Alexander Ceferin, the head of European Football governing body UEFA, for the cautious approach that has resulted in a successful start for the top three tiers in German football. Ceferin called the approach in a recent video interview with Qatar-based BeInSports “a good sign, and a gesture of great cooperation between the German league and German government.”
The UEFA president also raised hopes about the eventual end of restrictions without naming a date. The COVID-19 crisis caused domestic and continental club competitions across Europe, including the Champions League, the Europa League to be halted and the EURO 2020 to be postponed by one year. However, the 52-year-old is confident to see disruptions lifted in the coming months. “Good old football with fans will come back very soon,” he told The Guardian last week.