German top football league Bundesliga will restart its season on May 16 without spectators, becoming the first European football league to resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The German league, DFL, said on Thursday the season would resume under the terms of a strict health protocol that bans fans from the stadium, with several matches, including the Ruhr valley derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, taking place on the relaunch day.
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While it was no normal restart given the empty stands and other restrictions, it was crucial to resume play, DFL CEO Christian Seifert told a news conference after a meeting with first and second division clubs.
The announcement came a day after the government gave the Bundesliga and the second tier the green light to resume their seasons from mid-May, as part of measures to begin easing the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
A government statement also said teams would have to go into quarantined training camps before the restart.
The league has been on hold since mid-March because of the coronavirus outbreak, but teams have been training in small groups and under strict conditions since mid-April.
The pandemic has brought football to a standstill around the world and Germany’s progress is likely to be closely watched by other leagues.
“The return of the Bundesliga is great news for the football industry and marks the way for the staggered return of football that will not be complete until the return of fans to the stadiums,” Spain’s La Liga president Javier Tebas said.
Bayern Munich, chasing an eighth successive title, currently lead the table with 55 points from 25 games, four ahead of Borussia Dortmund with RB Leipzig third on 50. There are nine rounds of matches left to play.
“The season finale will take place at the end of June,” DFL CEO Seifert said, with June 27-28 as a likely date.
As of Thursday, Germany has reported more than 166,000 infections and more than 7,000 deaths.
Officials said the coronavirus crisis was far from over despite the country slowly reopening its economy and trying to get life back to normal.