Clubs and the football federation hope for an August restart with a July training phase to step up for a resumption of the A-League, which was postponed indefinitely on 24 March. Five rounds of games, plus the finals, remain. All games are likely to be played in Sydney without spectators, with Wellington Phoenix to be based in NSW for a two-week quarantine before playing. The National Rugby League has the green light to restart on 28 May, which may lead to fixture clashes at cross-code venues such as Kogarah and Bankwest Stadium.
The situation was complicated this week when the government insisted that if one player tested positive the whole team would have to go into a 14-day quarantine. On Thursday the Austrian Bundesliga’s managing director, Christian Ebenauer, said he was “confident” the top division could resume at the end of May but added that “we need answers in the next seven or eight days”. The second division has little hope of finishing and a request from the top two teams, Ried and Klagenfurt, to increase the Bundesliga in 2020-21 from 12 to 14 teams was rejected. They are considering whether to appeal or take the matter to court.
The president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been pushing for a restart despite coronavirus having not yet peaked in the country and he angered many when he said “footballers have a small chance of dying of the virus”. Bolsonaro is one of the few world leaders who still downplays coronavirus, which he has likened to “a little flu”. On Monday a group of 16 first-division players, including Felipe Melo of Palmeiras, released a video saying players’ health must come first. “The Brazilian people love football and want it back, we also love it and we want to return. We are all for work, but we need to think about the health of all of us,” the players said. On Tuesday, Internacional became the first top club to resume training at its facilities but a restart of the league would appear to be at least a month away.
The country from which the virus emanated does not have a start date for the Super League, with the football association president, Chen Xuyuan, saying this week it could have to kick off without foreign players: “We will take this into consideration when starting games but we won’t wait for them all to get back before we kick off or else it will be unfair to other clubs.” China has barred overseas visitors. The league was due to start on 22 February but the best-case scenario appears to be end of June. “Plan A is to finish the season with 30 rounds,” Chen added. “We have a plan B if the league were to kick off in late June and finish in December, and we have also designed plan C for a later restart.”
Clubs were on Thursday given the green light to restart the season and will decide a date in days but they expect it to be before the end of the month. Denmark has kept cases and deaths (roughly 10,000 and 500) relatively low and on Friday announced museums, theatres and cinemas could reopen on 8 June. The Brøndby director Ole Palmå said: “We are delighted to be able to start again. The economic consequences will cast long and dark shadows over our sector for a long, long time.”
Premier League clubs will hold another video conference call on Monday to discuss how to proceed, with talks set to be heavily influenced by what the prime minister, Boris Johnson, says regarding lockdown restrictions on Sunday. The league, unlike many others, has discussed playing at neutral venues but three clubs – West Ham, Aston Villa and Brighton – have openly voiced concern. On Monday clubs will discuss a detailed timeframe of how a full return to training could work and they hope to vote it through on Friday. The season will start in mid-June at the earliest.
The first European league to restart, with the top division kicking off this weekend. The games from the Faroes, a self-governing island that is part of Denmark and has a population of nearly 50,000, will this weekend be broadcast live on Norwegian and Danish TV. Kevin Schindler, the assistant coach of HB Torshavn, told the German news agency DPA this week: “We don’t wear face masks, don’t need to keep a distance. Of course we disinfect our hands but overall everything has become easier than in Germany.”
The Bundesliga will be the first major league to restart with games scheduled for 16 May. The top two divisions hope to finish before the end of June to avoid problems with expiring contracts. The relaunch of the competition has not been without hiccups, though, as the Hertha Berlin forward Salomon Kalou filmed himself shaking hands with teammates and the German Football League announced 10 positive coronavirus tests from the initial 1,724 of players and staff.
The football association released a statement this week saying the season, suspended since 16 March, would remain inactive until at least 30 June. A statement read: “The executive council decided that the association will continue to monitor the situation and will revisit it on 30 June 2020 after a careful assessment and evaluation of the issue.”
The season will restart on 23 May with two cup ties and a league game. The football federation said “all matches will be subject to strict conditions to safeguard the health of all concerned” and would be behind closed doors. The country has reported 3,178 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 392 deaths, a relatively modest number due mainly to an early and strict lockdown.
The 20 Serie A clubs recently voted to try to complete the season but on Friday Sampdoria said four players had tested positive for coronavirus, one for a second time. Fiorentina said three players and three staff had tested positive and Torino revealed one player had Covid-19. On Thursday the government said it was still examining medical guidelines of the football federation, which are seen as the stumbling block. Teams have been allowed to start practising this week, with players training individually and adhering to physical-distancing protocols. Full team practices are due to begin on 18 May but only if the medical protocol is approved, and mid-June seems the earliest date Serie A will resume.
Top-flight clubs returned to training this week, with the aim to get league games started by the end of the month or possibly in the first week of June. Porto said this week the players had undergone medical tests and were divided into three groups for practice to conform with physical-distancing guidelines. The Benfica coach, Bruno Lage, said: “We will try to find the best solutions and the best way of staying connected, even when we are a distance apart.” Portugal has been spared the huge death tolls in neighbouring Spain and some other western European countries.
The Premier Soccer League Exco met on Thursday to discuss a return but with coronavirus cases and deaths on the increase it was unable to present a timeframe. The PSL had its first Covid-19 case confirmed on the same day when the Orlando Pirates midfielder Ben Motshwari tested positive. The club said: “The player is asymptomatic and is currently in home isolation for the next 14 days. He will need to test negative before he is cleared.”
The first big league to kick off on Friday with Jeonbuk Motors beating Suwon Bluewings 1-0. The game, behind closed doors, had a large worldwide audience online. The players had their temperatures checked before, the teams ran on separately and masked coaching staff and substitutes took their seats in the dugouts while journalists dotted the press tribune. All 1,100 K-League players and staff had tested negative before the season started.
One of the worst-hit countries in the world, Spain has started to ease lockdown rules recently and La Liga teams returned to training this week. Training grounds were prepared, disinfected and inspected and players had Covid-19 antibody tests before returning. Players will work alone to begin with, then in groups of six and finally in groups of 14. The league hopes to be back in mid June. “The return of football is a sign that society is progressing to a new normality,” said the president of the league, Javier Tebas. “It will bring back a part of life that people in Spain and around the world love.”
The government has given permission for training from 11 May and matches from 8 June but the football league has said there are numerous financial and health issues to be resolved. Also, on Friday, fans from five teams – Servette, Sion, Xamax, Lausanne and Lugano – wrote an open letter, saying: “This [playing behind closed doors] shows that the league is putting business interest before everything else, which means that they are catering for what the TV companies and the sponsors need.” The fans added that playing would be “putting the players’ health at risk”.
All 26 clubs in Major League Soccer had played two of their scheduled 34 matches when the league suspended league play and issued a full team training moratorium on 12 March. Matches are suspended until at least 8 June, although four teams – including David Beckham’s Inter Miami – were permitted by the league to return to voluntary training this week and more are due to join them.