• Germany’s Bundesliga has resumed play for the first time in two months.
  • Strict new rules include empty stadiums and COVID-19 testing.
  • South Korea has restarted its K League and other top European leagues are resuming group training.

Disinfected balls, mandatory COVID-19 tests, elbow bumps and empty seats are now all part of global soccer – and the measures were on display as play resumed in Germany’s Bundesliga.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced sport around the world to cease, with the summer Olympics in Tokyo postponed and costing billions in lost tourism and TV revenue.

In the US alone, it’s thought coronavirus has cost the sport industry $2.2 billion in national TV revenue, as of May.

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COVID-19’s impact on revenue in the US sports industry.
Image: Statista

As with other industries – from tourism to entertainment – there’s an understandable need to balance restarting and boosting economies, while ensuring it’s done in the safest way possible.

Here’s what soccer is doing to get leagues going again during the time of coronavirus.

Football – but not as we know it

The Bundesliga is the first top-flight European league to resume play since the COVID-19 pandemic sent countries into lockdown. Play was suspended on 13 March.

When the first match kicked off on 16 May, the players and staff had been in quarantine for the week, with regular coronavirus tests, according to the BBC.

Players arrived in several team buses to ensure they could sit far enough apart on the way to the stadium.

Although play itself was normal, there were 30 balls available during the game – all of which had been carefully disinfected. And goal celebrations involved less hugging, and more fist or even boot bumping.

Soccer Football - Bundesliga - 1. FC Union Berlin v Bayern Munich - Stadion An der Alten Forsterei, Berlin, Germany - May 17, 2020   Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring their first goal with Serge Gnabry, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool    DFL regulations prohibit any use of photographs as image sequences and/or quasi-video - RC2GQG9WI5YO
Bayern Munich players celebrate scoring their first goal in front of an empty stand.
Image: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool

Meanwhile, everyone not on the pitch had to wear a face mask, except for the head coaches – who were exempted so they could shout instructions to the players.

The stands were empty of fans, and it was so quiet as a result that people watching on TV could hear the players talking and the sound of the ball hitting the net.

In total, only 213 people were allowed into the ground, which included media and medics, and everyone had their temperature taken.

Substitutes sat on the benches two metres apart to observe social distancing and wore masks, until they began to warm up. Players coming off the pitch were handed a mask.

Soccer Football - Bundesliga - 1. FC Union Berlin v Bayern Munich - Stadion An der Alten Forsterei, Berlin, Germany - May 17, 2020   FC Union Berlin substitutes wearing face masks maintain social distance in the stands, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool    DFL regulations prohibit any use of photographs as image sequences and/or quasi-video - RC2GQG92RH63
FC Union Berlin substitutes wore face masks and maintained social distance in the stands.
Image: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool

Towards a global goal

Germany is not the only country where soccer is kicking off again. South Korea’s K League started matches on 8 May, with strict new emergency measures in place. For example, if a player or member of the coaching staff falls sick with COVID-19 during the season, the team will not play for two weeks.

The Spanish Football Federation and top-flight league LaLiga have agreed on restarting matches in June to conclude the season. Matches will be played every day of the week, but no team can play two matches in the space of 72 hours – and some matches will kick off as late as 11pm in the hot summer months.

No start date is in place yet for Italy’s Serie A league, but Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte gave teams permission to resume training again as of 18 May, along with a raft of other businesses that could open again. Training is restricted to groups of 10 players.

In the UK, the Premier League may resume play on 12 June, and is currently holding discussions on ‘Project Restart’ with the Football Association and government.

"We all agreed that we will only go ahead if it is safe to do so and the health and welfare of players, coaches and staff comes first," the British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the BBC.