Wir sind zurück, baby! (We are back, baby! if Google Translate hasn’t failed me)
The men’s Bundesliga allowed its first ball to be kicked in the post Corona-pause world some weeks ago and last weekend was the turn of the Frauen to take to the green – and we were not disappointed. Mind you, we have been starved of competition and sport of any kind for close to three months (the SheBelieves Cup in March a distant memory of what feels like a decade ago), and therefore our expectations might have been low. And yet, we were comprehensively rewarded.
Whilst we will need to get used to the empty stadiums, the elbow knocking celebrations, and the socially distanced team huddles, the fact that this ‘new normal’ is actually happening should be celebrated. Different countries in Europe have dealt with the health crisis in different ways, and ultimately the decisions taken by governments have influenced how sporting bodies reacted to the logistical nightmare of completing a season which was on its last legs, but where in some cases nothing was yet quite decided.
Taking the decision to cancel the season makes sense from a health perspective, regardless of the manner in which that end is enforced (whether by voiding the season, or crowning a champion and forcing the relegation/promotion turnstiles, or a bit of both). In the circumstances, it would be irresponsible to continue to have players in lockdown one day and then two days later force them to resume the competition when all their fellow countryfolk are not allowed to leave their region, or even their house.
And yet, in most European countries, it seems like the completion of the men’s season, whether it has to occur in the middle of summer and without anyone there to witness it, is a non-negotiable. The financial burden of the cancellation of TV rights could drive some clubs into administration in leagues like the Premier League or LaLiga if play is not resumed at some point in the near future. This makes sense to a certain extent. However, this urgency for completing the season has not been applied with the same intensity to the women’s leagues. In fact, the great majority have been cancelled. At this point, one does wonder how the Germans got it so right and everyone else got it so wrong.
It is true that the German situation within the context of Europe is unique, and no one can quite explain why. Despite sharing borders with France and Italy, which are equally affected countries, Germany has ‘only’ registered 183,000 reported Covid-19 cases and around 8,600 deaths. These are statistics that most Western countries would want. On the other side of the European spectrum, the UK, Spain, France and Italy lead the pack in infections and deaths. Only this week, the UK surpassed 40,000 deaths, whereas the toll in France and Spain is still below 30,000. These stats were captured from the World Health Organisation daily report as of the 6th June 2020.
Comparatively then, Germany is the only country in Europe where the resumption of football so early does not seem such a leap, despite the fact that the health emergency has not yet passed. And yet, the way in which the German football federation and the clubs that belong to it have handled the resumption is exemplary, and has highlighted the lack of effective, collective action by other European football federations in a fairly similar context.
The German top four men’s clubs, that is, the clubs that were involved in the UEFA Champions League this year (Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig), have put together a solidarity fund of 20 million euros to help clubs in financial distress during the Covid-19 crisis. This extends to clubs in the second and third men’s divisions, and the women’s league. This fund intended to cover the costs of restarting the competition, from funding mass testing, facilities hiring (teams have to isolate several days prior to clashes), health and safety equipment, etc. Without this fund, the Frauen-Bundesliga would have definitely not been able to restart. With five clubs currently not affiliated with a men’s team (Essen, Frankfurt, Turbine Potsdam, Sand and USV Jena), and even those affiliated with a men’s club not in a strong financial position to cover this increased expense, it would have been an unreasonable undertaking.
As it is, restarting a competition after such a long hiatus, with eight games to play over five weeks with next to no joint training is already a risky undertaking. The risk of injury is high. The guidelines set up by the DFB, such as the requirement to quarantine for seven days prior to games, means that some clubs might either be without some of their players (if they are part-time and have jobs outside their clubs), or their officials. And yet the completion of the league on the field is by far the fairest way to determine final placings, title, relegation, and UEFA Women’s Champions League spot. All players will be in the same boat in regards to lack of training, after all. Granted, it will not be the same as having finished the league in March and April, but we don’t know what that scenario would have looked like, if a global pandemic hadn’t ground the world to a halt.
So whilst we praise the Germans for getting it done, for thinking outside the box and trying to get everyone to return to sport equally, we do have to wonder why this has not happened elsewhere. We have to be concerned with the lack of solidarity in other countries. And with how the decisions have been made. Over the next few weeks, we will review how other federations have ended their women’s leagues and the challenges and issues that their cancellations have brought to this year’s final standings, and next year’s calendar. Hold onto your hats because this won’t be an easy ride!
But in the meantime, VIELEN DANK, DEUTSCHLAND!