As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the whole world to a halt. This meant that restaurants closed down, flights got cancelled and of course, the football season came to a screeching halt. While many leagues such as France’s Ligue 1 and the Belgian Jupiler Pro League have cancelled their season and declared their winners, not every league has gone about their business the same.
It’s no secret to football fans that the Bundesliga, the German top flight, resumed their season on May 16, 2020. The German league is the first European league to resume playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, it wasn’t business as usual because the teams had to play without their usually energetic fans cheering them on. They also couldn’t do the usual goal celebrations and substitutes coming on didn’t ceremoniously slap the hands of the player they are replacing. With the COVID-19 pandemic not revealing its end, this may be a new normal.
All eyes are now on the English Premier League (EPL). The EPL is set to resume either June 12th or June 19th. The players are said to be attending training in anticipation for the restart of the season. The real question is, should they restart like the Bundesliga or will they cancel the league and declare a winner like the French Ligue 1. The truth is, there are no simple or perfect answers.
If the EPL is cancelled, then they could potentially lose a £762m rebate on their broadcast income. The fate of many jobs also relies on the resumption of the league. In addition to that, if the league is cancelled and Liverpool are declared Champions and the table stands as is, it’s unfair to other teams especially those who are frozen in a relegation position.
On one hand, Liverpool only had two wins left to be declared champions, a title they have been without for the last 30 years. It’s unlikely that anyone would deem that unfair. The unfairness becomes evident when one examines the teams that would be relegated. The teams have played either 28 or 29 matches out of the stipulated 38 matches. Based on the points in the relegation battle, mathematically, any of them could avoid being demoted.
In the event that the league resumes, that provides a new set of problems. The health of the players and everyone working in the stadium is at risk. COVID-19 obviously doesn’t care about preserving football, or anything for that matter. While the matches would be played behind closed doors, football is a contact sport and you can’t tackle someone and still maintain the 6 feet social distancing rule.
Willian, a Chelsea player was quoted in Globo Esporte as saying that the majority of the players are uncomfortable with returning to the game now. Willian and the other players fear isn’t unfounded.
In the United Kingdom, there have been 250,000 cases confirmed and 34,466 deaths to date. Besides, these players have multiple roles. They’re the footballers that entertain us but they’re also fathers, sons, brothers and grandsons. They would naturally want to protect themselves and their family members from exposure to a virus that has claimed many lives globally. In addition to that, playing without fans in attendance might remove the heart and style out of the beautiful game we come to know and love.
Juergen Klopp has been quoted in Express saying, “first and foremost, all of us have to do whatever we can to protect one another”. He also believes health should take priority: “of course, we don’t want to play in front of an empty stadium and we don’t want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy – just one – we do it no questions asked.”
Whether or not the English Premier League should resume is another matter of ‘profit vs people’. While we know it provides jobs and adds joy to our lives, should that take precedence over people’s health? The restart seems imminent and it means they’ve put a price on human life. All football fans would love to start watching football again but at what cost?