German football returns under intense scrutiny
SEDAN: Football in Germany returns to the field on Saturday when the Bundesliga becomes the first of Europe's top leagues to return to action since coronavirus emergency shutdown.
The German Football League (DFL) convinced Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country's regional leaders to allow the game to resume by agreeing to submit to an extraordinary set of guidelines to prevent infection.
The stadiums will be empty and silent except for the players 'shouts and the referees' whistles - Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, but it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.
Borussia Dortmund will face local rivals Schalke 04 in the Ruhr Derby on Saturday.
That fixture would normally have attracted a crowd of 82,000 people to Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park, but supporters will be blocked.
On Sunday, Bayern Munich , who were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was suspended in March, will resume their search for a successive eighth Bundesliga title when they play in the capital against Union Berlin.
To minimize the risk of infection, players and staff are regularly tested and each club has been quarantined for a week before matches.
Teams will arrive at stadiums on multiple buses to meet social distance requirements within vehicles. Once on the field, the players have been warned not to hug to celebrate goals.
Substitutes and coaches on the bench must wear protective masks.
Some have already fallen for lack of unprecedented rules.
Augsburg's new coach Heiko Herrlich has ruled out of Saturday's home game with Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
I made a mistake, Herrlich said. I did not fulfill my role as a role model for my team and the public.
While Herrlich was criticized, there was sympathy for Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer after he broke the quarantine after a family duel.
It means you should miss your team's clash with Bayern.
All of our sympathy goes to the Fischer family at this difficult time, said Union President Dirk Zingler.
Former Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, was suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with his teammates.
Bavaria state leader Markus Soeder warned that those who do not comply with the regulations should expect consequences.
If health experts have given you these suggestions, if the league itself has developed concepts at great cost, then you must abide by these rules, Soeder said Friday.
And if you don't follow them, if in doubt, there will be a red card.
The coronavirus has claimed over 7,800 lives in Germany.
A poll by broadcaster ARD showed that 56 percent of the German public opposes the return of football and players have been warned that the nation's eyes are on them.
Every last player knows how to follow the rules, said Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
With leagues still suspended in England, Italy and Spain, the Bundesliga will have the attention of the football world itself.
Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert warned that matches will look and feel different.
The teams only started the squad's training sessions last week after previously working in small groups.
I call it 'flying blind,' said Hertha Berlin coach Bruno Labbadia.
With so few days of preparation, it is impossible to say where we are standing.
Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller said his teammates were raring to go.
When I see the emotions we've developed over the past few days, even in a training game, it shows our greed for regular competition, Mueller wrote on LinkedIn.
The clubs want to finish the remaining nine rounds of games before June 30 to claim around 300 million euros ($ 324 million) in television money. Several clubs are reported to be in deep financial trouble.