The attention of the sporting world is going to fall on Germany this weekend as the nation's top-flight football league the Bundesliga becomes the first major football league to start after getting halted due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
All of the 18 clubs of the league will get back into action in what can be a motivation or way forward for the other leagues to follow the footsteps of Bundesliga. Strict health and safety measures are going to be in place and the stadiums are going to be empty for the matches.
Bundesliga showing the way forward
Topping the bill will be the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 — a fixture that would normally be played out in front of 80,000 raucous fans. This time there will be eerie silence with only around 200 people pitchside and in the stands, including medics, security, hygiene staff and certain media personnel.
Everyone except the players must wear a mask. "It will most certainly be the most unusual derby in history," Dortmund's head of pro players Sebastian Kehl said this week. "This game lives off fans, their emotions, the intensity of the stadium. We will not experience any of that." A heavy police presence is expected outside the
Westfalenstadion to make sure fans desperate to get closer to the action, or anti-lockdown protestors, do not gather — a situation that could throw the restart into doubt. "We will not allow the derby to be used for any political stirring whatsoever," Dortmund mayor Mayor Ullrich Sierau told a news conference on Friday. "If it means a person doesn't die because of the virus, then we'll gladly do without the next match."
League is starting amid the discussions about its safety
While opinion is still divided about the rights and wrongs of top-tier soccer returning while no vaccine is yet available for the killer virus, from a sporting perspective the Bundesliga title race could still turn into a classic. Dortmund are in second place with nine games remaining, four points behind leaders Bayern Munich who are seeking an eighth successive crown. RB Leipzig are a further point in arrears.
Bayern travel to Union Berlin on Sunday with the hosts likely to be without coach Urs Fischer, who on Wednesday left the team's mandatory seven-day isolation camp ahead of the season restart. Leipzig host Freiburg while Borussia Moenchengladbach, still in the hunt a further point behind in fourth place, travel to Eintracht Frankfurt.
One change brought in because of the circumstances will be clubs being allowed five substitutions — a move designed to help clubs cope with what could be a pile-up of fixtures. After a two-month hiatus and no other live action this weekend, a TV audience of one billion is expected to tune in for the weekend's Bundesliga fixtures, according to Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
(With agency inputs)