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German football targets May 9 restart but needs political green light

Berlin (AFP) – German league football is ready to resume without spectators on May 9 but the final say rests with political leaders, the Bundesliga’s chief executive said Thursday.

Following a meeting with Germany’s top clubs, Christian Seifert said the league was “ready” to return next month, which would make it the first major European football competition to do so.

Seifert stressed though that the final decision lay with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and state leaders.

“It is solely down to what the political leaders decide,” Seifert said in a video press conference.

“The Bundesliga is ready — regardless of whether it can continue on 9 May or at a later date.” 

The season in Germany was halted on March 13 in a bid to prevent the virus spreading.

Germany has been less affected by the coronavirus pandemic than other European countries, partly due to mass testing.

But the move to allow players back onto the pitch is being treated with caution and Seifert stressed that hygiene precautions would have to be observed.

The players must be tested regularly and hygiene officers would be appointed to each team to ensure the guidelines are followed.

“Games without spectators are not what we want, but they seem to be the only feasible way,” said Seifert.

“We try to take the best possible precautions through certain measures.”

The Bundesliga CEO said only around 200 people will be allowed in the stadium for each game, including players, coaches, officials and media.

The leaders of the powerful states of Bavaria — home to reigning German champions Bayern Munich — and the football hotbed state of North-Rhine Westphalia have backed football’s resumption.

Bavaria state leader Markus Soeder has made it clear that football will not be given a “blank cheque” to continue at a time of competing funding priorities, and the situation will be constantly reviewed.

On Thursday, Soeder said the Robert Koch Institute, which advises Merkel’s government on the virus, will have a crucial say on “whether the concept is good or not”.

– ‘Follow the rules’ –

It is planned that the league season will finish by June 30, which would free up around 300 million euros ($323 million) in television money, an essential boost for several cash-strapped clubs. 

There is also debate about whether the squads should be quarantined in separate hotels to further reduce the risk. 

Germany’s top scientists and numerous health experts are sceptical about the testing of footballers in the midst of the pandemic.

One sticking point is how many tests — of players and backroom staff — would be needed to complete the season, but Seifert played down the numbers.

“According to the Robert Koch Institute, the volume of test capacities is 818,000 per week (in Germany,” said Seifert.

“Professional soccer wouldn’t use even 0.4 percent of that.”

There are still further hurdles the German Football League (DFL) needs to clear.

Germany’s police union has warned they expect locked-out fans to congregate outside stadiums on match days despite a nationwide ban on public gatherings. 

Even some fans’ groups are critical of a restart, accusing the league and Germany’s clubs of being motivated by money.

Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller says the clubs must follow the rules in order to complete the season.

“As long as the rules (for the restart) are compatible with the laws and regulations, we will play, even if we have to be in quarantine,” Mueller told Sport Bild magazine.

“It is quite clear that football would follow the rules.”

Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was put on hold in March. 

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