The return of the beautiful game is imminent as governments around the world have begun to ease lockdown restrictions and the Premier League inches towards a restart.
The first top tier domestic league to come back was Germany’s Bundesliga offering a first glimpse of games without fans in attendance. Clubs have introduced innovative ways to create some sense of atmosphere such as pumped-in crowd noises and cardboard cutout supporters but as the stats reveal with a couple of rounds now complete, home advantage has been wiped out
The Premier League has shown desperation to complete the season and with a rebate of 700 plus million on the line, the league is fighting to avoid television broadcast costs. The plan for England is to see domestic action resume on June 17.
Spain and Italy are also resuming domestic competition, whilst other governments such as France and the Netherlands have already cancelled their seasons. In time, will both countries come to regret that decisions as restrictions begin to lift worldwide?
FIFA’s medical committee told news reporters that football should be focusing on the start of next season while searching for a ‘sporting solution’ to end the 2019-20 campaign. Its chairman also stated “it’s a fight between health and economic values”.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden of the UK went on record to say that he wanted Premier League football to return “as soon as possible to support the whole football community”. And before any schedules could continue, Public Health England had to sign off an agreement to allow the league’s return.
But public gatherings in large numbers are likely to remain banned in most countries until 2021 although New Zealand has seen sport resume in front of live audiences thanks to that country’s eradication of the COVID-19 virus to zero cases at the time of writing.
Initially the Premier League had planned to play games between 8-10 neutral approved stadiums, removing the bias of home advantage with the Merseyside derby causing some consternation for authorities in Liverpool.
With Jurgen Klopp’s side in touching distance of the title, there are concerns about mass gatherings of Reds fans, but that is part of a wider conversation in the UK.
The Government’s seemingly disastrous handling of health guidelines, combined with the public flouting lockdown rules to visit tourist destinations, and large-scale public protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, means pockets of congregating football fans are just another chapter in the story.
Other roadblocks remain ahead. The backlash from struggling sides or rising infections could also become an issue. With so many aspects to be concerned about, it’s not going to be an easy job for any league to accomplish their remaining schedule without a problem occurring along the way.