Today, The NWSL announced their “2020 Challenge Cup,” which follows the tournament guidelines we outlined last week.
The statement from the NWSL makes it the first American team sports league to officially announce a date for resumption of play. It remains to be seen if all the players will participate.
The tournament format was drafted by the NWSL and agreed upon by its player union, the NWSLPA. But some players have privately questioned whether or not they would like to participate.
The Cup will last one month, from June 27 to July 26. All nine teams will fly private to Utah and undergo testing upon arrival. No spectators will be allowed into Rio Tinto Stadium or any of the other Salt Lake City soccer facilities hosting the tournament. Additionally, NWSL personnel and players will self isolate and be tested for the duration of the month.
The tournament will be played in a “World Cup” format where teams compete in group play then enter a knockout stage.
The league’s return to play announcement comes on the heels of the NHL. Yesterday, NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, held a virtual press conference outlining the 24 team postseason without giving specific dates to when the games would actually resume.
But one of the hurdles sports leagues now face is the issue of testing. The NWSL, NFL, and NBA all have this problem on the horizon.
The NWSL plans to test athletes and team staff rigorously. According to the league’s protocol, all personnel will be tested within 24-48 hours of every home game.
Obviously, more tests are available than when the outbreak began. But leagues are still wrestling with the issue of using tests for athletes instead of someone who needs a test. But for a small league playing in a state with relatively few cases testing seems practicable, despite the inherent risk.
Another problem for the NWSL is the reporting that some of the league’s top players will not show up for the tournament. No players have publicly come out against the Challenge Cup, but some star players are considering sitting the tournament out.
“Most women’s national team players haven’t decided whether to attend and are considering the plan given the serious challenges and health risks that are associated,” a source familiar with the players told the Washington Post.
The U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees the national team, has supported the NWSL’s decision.
Time will tell which athletes opt-in or out of the tournament. But the NWSL could create the template for reopening team sports or shutting them down entirely.