Football in Germany will lead the way on Saturday as its Bundesliga becomes the first of Europe’s major leagues to swing back into action since the coronavirus lockdown.
In the standout match of the day, Borussia Dortmund hosted Schalke 04 in the Ruhr derby in the cavernous Signal Iduna Park, which would normally have been packed with 82,000 spectators.
Professional football returned to western Europe earlier in the day as the second-tier Bundesliga 2 resumed with four matches
Instead no more than 300 people were in the stadium and the only sound when Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland scored the opening goal for Dortmund in the first half was the players’ voices.
South Korean Lee Jae-Sung scored the first league goal in over two months when he gave Holstein Kiel a third-minute lead at Regensburg.
In order to get the political green light to resume, the German Football League (DFL) has tested players and coaches regularly for the virus and teams have been in quarantine for the past week.
Players and staff must follow stringent hygiene guidelines.
Teams arrived at stadiums in several buses in order to meet social distancing requirements inside the vehicles. Once play began, players were banned from shaking hands or embracing to celebrate goals.
Borussia Dortmund have a tradition of celebrating in front of the Yellow Wall after victories.
They still did it with no fans 🙌pic.twitter.com/U79BnLy3gU
— Goal (@goal) May 16, 2020
Although Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.
On Sunday, Bayern Munich will resume their quest for an eighth successive Bundesliga title when they play in the capital against Union Berlin.
Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was suspended in March with Dortmund leading the chasing pack.
The DFL has made no secret of the fact that several clubs are already in a dire financial situation as a result of the lockdown.
If they are able to complete the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30, clubs could receive around 300 million euros ($324 million) in money from television contracts.
Clubs in England, Spain and Italy, where leagues are weeks away from returning to action, will be watching to see how the weekend’s games go.
The Bundesliga is expecting millions of extra fans to watch television coverage worldwide, with particular interest in football-mad Brazil and Mexico.
But in Germany, there are concerns that fans will try to approach stadiums to support their teams from afar. Police in Dortmund appealed to fans to stay at home.
“The whole world will be looking at Germany, to see how we get it done,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said.
“If we manage to ensure that the season continues, it will send a signal to all leagues.”
Some have already fallen foul of the rules.
Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich has ruled himself out of Saturday’s match against Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
“I made a mistake,” Herrlich said. “I did not live up to my function as a role model for my team and the public.”
While Herrlich was criticised, there was sympathy for Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer after he broke quarantine following a family bereavement.
It means he must miss his side’s clash with Bayern.
“All our sympathy goes to the Fischer family in this difficult time,” said Union president Dirk Zingler.
Ex-Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, has been suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with team-mates.
Bavaria’s state leader Markus Soeder warned that those who fail to follow the regulations should expect consequences.
“If the health experts have given you these suggestions, if the league itself has worked out concepts at great expense, then you have to abide by these rules,” Soeder said Friday.
The coronavirus has claimed over 7,800 lives in Germany and a poll by broadcaster ARD showed 56 percent of the German public are opposed to football’s return.
But Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body UEFA, said the return to action was a “good sign”.
“It’s not just about football. People are depressed because of the lockdown and the uncertainty. Football brings a certain normality and positive energy. It makes it easier to be at home, when you can watch sport,” he told Bein Sport.