I’ll give you all a bit of a glimpse behind the scenes here. We’ve soured on “possible reopening plan” stories. We’re pretty much against running them until something is concrete. You’re probably sick of them, too. They’re just trial balloons or fingers in the wind. They all follow the same formula, and all hinge on benchmarks in the treatment of coronavirus that we’re nowhere near yet. They’re at best theoretical, farcical at worst.
So here’s one about an actual major league in the world returning to action. The Bundesliga in Germany. At least it’s planning to, though it seems very much like those who chose “Exile” in The Dark Knight Rises. This ice is not too thick and there’s a long distance to cover.
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the go-ahead for the Bundesliga to return to action in two or three weeks. The league will figure out which in a meeting tomorrow. The exact schedule will be sorted out then as well. Games will be played behind closed doors. Teams have either nine or 10 games left, and with no European commitments, it would lead one to reason that some midweek games can be scheduled to tighten up the window. The Bundesliga wants to finish up before the end of June, which is when player contracts expire or begin, in the case of new signings. If that’s the case, the league will have five or six weeks to wrap up the rest of the fixtures.
Some of Germany’s methods to get back to playing could be a roadmap, and some are going to look awfully similar to the situation and reasons here. The biggest example of the latter is simply money. The current thinking in Germany is that without the resumption of the season, 13 clubs out of the 36 in the country’s top two divisions would go bust, including four in the first division. The resumption and completion of the season will see their TV deals paid in full, which these clubs need. One has to think that’s one of, if not the, major driving force here.
The roadmap portion is that Germany’s testing capabilities are far beyond what we’ve seen so far in this country, and many others. The country had conducted 2.5 million tests as of last week, and says its capability now is to test 800,000 a week. So the 20,000 tests they will need overall to finish the season, as they claim, is highly manageable. Germany’s positive-test rate of 7.5 percent is also lower than the WHO’s benchmark to begin easing restrictions, as well as their 0.71 reproduction rate (R0, the mark of how many people one infected person is spreading to. Below one means that overall the country is in decline in infections). The U.S., for example, has a positive test rate above 20 percent, mostly because it’s only testing those who are already sick and hasn’t gained the capacity to test a wider range of people.
Because of its quick action and focus on testing, Germany has seen less than 7,000 deaths to the virus so far, whereas Italy, Spain, and the U.K. have had more than 25,000.
Still, the threat of having to go back into lockdown hangs over the entire league and country. Three members of Cologne F.C. tested positive during the Bundesliga’s testing of all personnel in the league, and there were 10 positive tests overall. All have been isolated, but the country is claiming that the entire club doesn’t have to be. What will multiple positive tests in a month’s time mean? What happens if a majority or whole first team has to be isolated due to positive tests? Send the U-19s out there? Cancel its season? No one’s quite sure, and it’s being left up to that particular state’s health officials.
The measures for the players are certainly lengthy. Players can choose between either living at home or in a team hotel. They have to drive to home games themselves, and for away games multiple buses will be used to keep players apart.
The starting 11 will be kept apart from substitutes, and teams will use several dressing rooms for changing to maintain social distancing markers (though if they’re all out on the field playing against each other…). Every team must pass two phases of testing to resume full training, and everyone will be tested twice a week for the remainder of the season.
It certainly is a lot to hop through, and may seem impossible to reach for other countries in any sort of near timeframe to complete their respective competitions. The U.K. is woefully behind Germany in testing, and way ahead in deaths, as are Spain and Italy. And that’s if Germany was a sure bet to get through this, which they aren’t. The U.K. has tested just about half of what Germany has, and is on about 80,000 tests per day at the moment.
But as of now, in two or three weeks time, there will be actual games played in an easily accessible league, television wise anyway (Bundesliga games are on Fox Sports). Whether other countries, especially this one, use the numbers that Germany has as their targets and landmarks to open their leagues, and whether any of this works, we’ll just have to see.