Germany’s top soccer league will have footie fans from across the planet paying attention on Saturday when it becomes the most prominent professional league to resume play amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus, how the Bundesliga restarts its season this weekend will be something to watch for as his team and the Canadian Premier League await word on when — or if — their season will get underway.
“Besides that, there is of course (Edmonton-raised Bayern Munich player) Alphonso Davies, that gives every Edmonton soccer fan a reason to watch that league. In this, I just get to be a fan of this game.”
But like undoubtedly many people who work in professional sports, Paulus says this weekend’s Bundesliga restart will have him watching for more than just the play on the pitch.
“I also have an interest to see how they manage this game safety-wise and the steps they are taking to ensure the safety of the players, technical staff, officials, media and stadium employees required to be there,” he says.
When the Bundesliga resumes play, its players, coaches and support staff will be subjected to routine coronavirus testing to ensure that any COVID-19 infections are quickly detected. Everything from equipment to stadiums will be subject to rigorous sanitization.
The soccer players on Bundesliga teams will not wear face masks on the pitch but everyone else at games will be and even coaches will be required to maintain physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from their players. And, of course, the players will be playing in empty stadiums.
France’s top league has already been forced to cancel the rest of its season but Germany’s top league is carrying out its restart before other top soccer leagues in England, Spain and Italy do, with those leagues hoping to resume play next month.
Paulus says that shines a massive spotlight on the Bundesliga this weekend.
“I mean, we are talking about one of the top leagues on the planet, so I don’t imagine that this will really add anything extra to that standing,” he says. “What it does do, however, is put that league under the microscope.
“South Korea has already started to play and apparently the streaming views outside of their country are quite high, so there is some benefit to being the first to start. But you also accept all of the risk and scrutiny if it goes wrong.”
The CPL, the league in which Paulus coaches FC Edmonton, was set to start its season on April 11. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, however, it has been forced to postpone kickoff indefinitely.
Paulus suggests at the end of the day, everyone’s health and safety is what matters the most.
“As the manager of this team, I worry about our players and my staff, and I share those sentiments now with the clubs in Germany and potentially England,” he says. “Like everyone else, I want nothing more than for life to return to normal, but I am also someone that believes the science and sincerely hopes we do this in the proper way for the sake of those most vulnerable.
“This is my concern for not only sport, but all facets of daily life.”
Right now, Paulus says he is “putting in a lot of work behind the scenes with the use of technology” with his FC Edmonton players.
“So we will all be ready if and when the health professionals deem it safe to do so,” he says.
“I believe that many players, and staff, are anxious to get going and everyone is still maintaining a belief that we will kick a ball this season.”
For now, the soccer world will turn its gaze to Germany to see what this weekend brings.
“Certainly in Europe, this will be closely viewed by some of the other leagues yet to make a definitive decision on whether or not to restart,” Paulus says. “I am not sure how much of an impact this will have on North American sports, and in particular the U.S., which seems quite a bit behind in dealing with this virus.
“That being said, if an outbreak happens that traces back to a match then this could certainly stall other league’s efforts to restart.”
–With files from The Associated Press’ Rob Harris