The 2020-21 Bundesliga season is upon us, but with the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic still very much a major issue the opening weekend will not be like any other we’ve witnessed. However, unlike the period of Geisterspiele after the original lockdown was lifted, there will be fans inside the stadia this weekend and all eyes will be on the Bundesliga to see how things pan out.
Much like last May when the German top division was the pioneer league to show that a restart was possible, the Bundesliga is again leading the way at the start of the new season as they phase in a limited return of fans to the stadia. Despite earlier proclamations that fans wouldn’t be returning to the stands until October, the footballing and health authorities of the various regions have made it possible for a fraction of the stadium capacity to be used.
The federal states have stipulated that 20% of a stadium’s total capacity may be used on matchday 1 which starts a six-week test phase. The success or failure of this phase will be assessed in October before any decisions are taken on further measures. “Politics brings confidence in the clubs of the Bundesliga and the 2nd Bundesliga and their fans, but also in many other sports, which must now be justified by everyone involved,” Christian Seifert, head of the German Football League (DFL) said on Wednesday in a statement.
The return of fans, while welcomed by many, does pose numerous questions and its wisdom will come under serious scrutiny over the coming weeks. Local authorities will have the final say as has been witnessed in Munich with a late decision to not admit fans to the Allianz Arena for the season opener due to a rise in the infection rate in the city this week.
Some clubs, such as Werder Bremen and Union Berlin are going to use their full 20% allowance, whereas the big match of the opening weekend at the Signal Iduna Park between Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach will see just 10,000 spectators (12.5%) admitted. Each club has formulated its own match plan and will be responsible for ensuring hygiene rules are followed. Measures have also been put into place to stop fans travelling long distances to the stadium such as limits on which fans get tickets.
The DFB Pokal matches last weekend gave a small insight to how things might pan out with fans allowed into a number of ties, but that also highlighted some pitfalls ahead of this weekend. There was plenty of singing and goal celebrations witnessed, and the club’s ability to enforce rules over social distancing and the wearing of masks was limited in many circumstances.
The hardcore ultras are not keen on returning under these conditions with Mönchengladbach’s ultras group releasing a statement saying that while they understood the need to partially bring back fans, “visiting a stadium under that hygiene protocol has nothing even remotely to do with what we perceive as fan culture.”
The success of returning fans to the stadia will come down in large part to the fans themselves obeying the rules and doing everything they can to reduce the risks. But risks do exist with the current plan and a rise in the infection rate linked directly to the admission of thousands of fans to football stadia will no doubt lead to a return of the Geisterspiele and recriminations as to the wisdom of the policy in the first place. Is this putting profit ahead of safety?
Everybody wants life to return to normal and that includes for fans of the Bundesliga full stadia with the unique atmosphere that brings. The corona virus crisis is however by no means over and the Bundesliga will not want to have to take two steps backwards due to having tried to take a step forward too early.
The world is watching.