German soccer's plan for 'ghost games' goes to government for approval

German pro clubs have agreed on the plan they will present to German authorities for consideration for the relaunch of the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga behind closed doors.

The Deutsche Fussball Liga's plan for so-called ghost games is being watched by sports leagues around the world as a prototype for their own restarts.

Like all other leagues, the DFL plan calls will need government approval. It is not without opposition, but German chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 federal state prime ministers are expected to consider the proposal next Thursday.

The DFL plan was approved at a meeting on Thursday and included these key elements:

Schedule. Games would return in May -- perhaps as soon at May 9 -- in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga with out fans. All stadiums around Germany would be used. The schedule would begin with games scheduled for the date that play resumes. Games on May 9-10 and May 16-17 are the last two weeks on the schedule. The schedule would then continue where it left off on the weekend of March 13-15.

Game management.  The plan covers special match operations, including those who would be allowed into and around the stadiums: 332 in all for Bundesliga games, 260 for 2. Bundesliga games. It also covers hygiene guidelines, continuous testing and permanent monitoring of those at the matches.

Testing. Five labs have been contracted to test those at the matches for the coronavirus, and another lab will conduct extensive antibody testing among players as part of a clinical study. The labs have all guaranteed that Bundesliga testing won't restrict other testing they need to do. The Bundesliga will pay 2.5 million euros ($2.7 million) for the 25,000 tests needed during the season and contribute 500,000 euros ($537,000) to cover extra testing as needed by the German health care system.

German clubs hope to resume play in order to avert what they warn will be widespread collapses. Four Bundesliga clubs and nine more in the 2. Bundesliga might go bankrupt if play doesn't restart by June, according to the DFL.

Clubs received some short-term relief when the Bundesliga's TV partners agreed to advance most of their final payment under the terms of their contract for the 2019-20 season -- more than $326 million -- and provide clubs with cash to get through the season.

The DFL executive committee also agreed to an aid plan for clubs in the 3. Liga (third division) and Frauen-Bundesliga (women's league). Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen -- Germany's four 2019-20 Champions League teams -- will contribute 7.5 million euros ($8 million) to support 19 teams in the 3. Liga and six in the Frauen-Bundesliga -- all clubs that don't have the backing of Bundesliga clubs.

Christian Seifert, the CEO of the DFL, said restarting play was “the only way to keep the Bundesliga and the 2. Bundesliga alive." If the season didn't resume, he added, "the Bundesliga would become collateral damage of the coronavirus crisis."

Club fan groups, who have influential roles in the affairs at many Bundesliga clubs, are opposing the concept of "Geisterspiele" (ghost games). Seifert admitted that "games without fans are not what we want," but he added that they may be all that will be available for a long time.

Seifert said the first half of the 2021-22 season will be played without spectators as well, and there's no guaranteed that they will be allowed after the winter break in 2021.

Photo: Bundesliga International

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