Influential German minister backs Bundesliga restart this month

BERLIN (Agencies): Germany’s minister for the interior and sport said Sunday he supports a resumption of the country’s football season this month despite three people testing positive for coronavirus at Bundesliga club Cologne.

“I find the schedule proposed by the German league plausible and I support the restart in May,” Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper, three days before a meeting of German authorities to discuss the issue.

The German Football League (DFL) backs matches resuming without spectators around mid-May, which would make it the first major European championship to make such a move. The sports ministers of the 16 German states have also approved the DFL’s plans. Seehofer, who plays a key government role on the issue as he holds several portfolios, has emphasised that the teams and players must respect several conditions.

“If there is a case of coronavirus in a team or its management, the club as a whole, and possibly also the team against which it last played, must go into quarantine for two weeks,” he said. “There will continue therefore to be risks for the schedule of matches and for the standings,” if there is any contamination. But he said clubs would not have any special testing privileges denied to the rest of the population. Some sides had suggested carrying out frequent tests of their players as a preventative measure against the virus.

Germany had reported 162,496 cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday, but its death toll of 6,649 remains considerably lower than that of comparable European countries, which are home to the continent’s other top football leagues.

– ‘Health is priority’ –

In France, Paris Saint-Germain were declared Ligue 1 champions on Thursday after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced professional sport could not resume before September. Meanwhile, English Premier League clubs on Friday reconfirmed their commitment to finish the season subject to coronavirus restrictions being lifted.

There are still 92 games remaining. They will be behind closed doors with neutral venues suggested. Also on Friday Italy’s 20 Serie A clubs reiterated their unanimous desire to complete the season despite sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora saying the chances of restarting were “increasingly narrow”.

In Spain, La Liga is planning to start testing players for the coronavirus between Tuesday and Thursday next week, after which they would then be able to resume individual training programmes within 48 hours. Clubs in Germany resumed training in early April while adhering to strict social distancing guidelines. However, the risk is still apparent.

Cologne announced Friday three people had tested positive for the virus and were to be placed into a 14-day quarantine at home. Cologne midfielder Birger Verstraete, whose partner suffers from a heart condition, said it was “strange” the club had not put the whole squad in quarantine following the tests, as suggested by Seehofer.

“It’s not up to me to decide what to do in the Bundesliga but I can say my head is not in football” at the moment, he told Flemish TV station VTM. “The health of my family, of my partner is the priority.”