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Can football survive without fans? Mixed reactions as Bundesliga restarts in front of empty stands
- Updated: May 19, 2020
Top-flight football returned for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic brought the sporting calendar to a grinding halt across the globe. The Bundesliga returned in Germany in empty stadiums as sport-starved fans got a taste of what the future of sport would be like in the wake of the pandemic.
Some of the big names, including leaders Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, were in action on the weekend of the league’s restart. The games were played in front of empty stands in ‘silent stadiums’ as fans were barred from attending games.
Strict health guidelines are being followed wherein players are following social distancing guidelines even when celebrating goals. Recorded cheers and music that accompanied goals added to the eeriness that was being felt.
Commentators were working from home, covering live action in front of TV screens with their headphones on while taking notes.
Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, who became the first player to score on the league’s return, celebrated his goal by respecting the social distancing guidelines that looked pretty weird on television. Without the 80,000-strong crowd that would have graced the Revierderby at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund marched on and clinched a 4-0 win.
When a Hertha Berlin player kissed his teammate during the team’s surprise 3-0 win at Hoffenheim on the opening Saturday, eyebrows were raised as it went against the social distance instructions given to the clubs. Nonetheless, the DFL (German football association) decided against any punishment.
Substitutes were sitting at the stands wearing masks while following social distancing guidelines while players were cautious when it came to on-field contact.
‘Hope to colleagues across the world’
While top-flight football returned in a ‘weird’, never-seen-before setting, German authorities are seeing it as a crucial step in helping ‘colleagues in other countries’ believe that sport will resume in their countries soon.
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said it’s important to not ease up after what was an interesting week in German football.
“It’s important that we are satisfied with it but that we don’t ease up now,” Rummenigge told broadcaster Sky.
“It allows colleagues in other countries to hope that they will also be allowed to start playing again some time.”
Sport-starved fans across the globe though were happy to see live football back. The Bundesliga was broadcast by 70 broadcasters worldwide. Over 6 million viewers tuned in on Saturday in Germany, a new record for broadcasters Sky, according to specialist website DWDL.de, reports AFP.
‘Your business is sick’
On the other hand, sections of German football fans are not happy with the games returning behind closed doors in the country. Chief executive of the German league (DFL), Christian Seifert had called the restart the only way to ‘keep Bundesliga alive’ but fans were and are not convinced.
Hardcore fans are of the opinion that the Bundesliga had ignored them. A banner in Augsburg on Saturday, read: “Football will survive, your business is sick!” according to ESPN.
Dr. Mark Doidge, a senior research fellow in sport at the University of Brighton, warned against leagues forcing a return to satisfy the broadcasters.
“I’m finding myself torn. I really want to watch some football and I like watching the Bundesliga. But do I want to buy into a system where the fans themselves in Germany are saying we don’t want the games to be taking place without us there,” Doidge was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
“The television companies scrabbling to get football back because they paid for it might need to be careful what they wish for because the spectacle won’t be very good.”
‘Football without fans a short-term solution’
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said football without fans is only a temporary solution in the wake of the pandemic.
“Will it survive long-term? Will it damage the show long-term without supporters? I am convinced of that,” FIFA’s head of global development Wenger told beIN Sport.
“You cannot imagine a whole season without any spectators. That’s why I believe it is a short-term solution.”
Nonetheless, Wenger agrees that it’s still the best possible way, given the havoc the pandemic has unleashed on sport.
“It is still the best possible way to get a verdict for the end of the season. It’s better than any other decision.”