After China, Europe was the hub and epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. Italy and Spain, followed by England, were the worst affected countries there as Europe came to a standstill. Football too was stopped in March 2020 after most countries went into lockdown. While some football leagues decided to cancel the season, others simply suspended play. One of the most-watched football leagues in the world, the English Premier League, decided to stop the play in early March. Other major leagues like Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A also followed EPL, and players were forced into hibernation.
French Ligue 1 took an extreme step and decided to cancel the season. Some of the French clubs took the football association to court as they were getting relegated from the top division. Football stars’ contracts too were left in balance as most financial deals end in June when the football season ends. Stadiums across Europe were used for essential services to help people battle COVID-19. In some cases, they were used as testing centers and makeshift hospitals. As the governments slowly gained a little control over the pandemic, individual training sessions for footballers were permitted, with strict social distancing norms.
Slowly and steadily, team training was permitted as footballers looked to regain fitness lost during the lockdown. Germany’s Bundesliga was the first European League to restart on 2nd June in empty stadiums, and set an example for others to follow. Strict medical guidelines were implemented and frequent testing took place to help Bundesliga return to normalcy.
Of course, the matches were played without fans, but the associations looked towards technology to enhance the viewing experience for fans back home. Artificial crowd noise recorded from previous matches is currently being used to replicate the environment on the football field. Some teams even decided to put cut-outs of their fans in the stands to fill up the empty seats! Spanish La Liga was the second major European League to restart on 12th June as superstar Lionel Messi returned to the pitch for his fans.
English Premier League is planning to restart behind closed doors from 17th June. The Premier League is testing almost 1000 players, officials, and support staff in a bid to stay away from the deadly virus. The players have been asked to live in isolation for some time and avoid contact with people from outside. On the field, the footballers have been advised not to celebrate by hugging each other, but many of them are not following the celebration guidelines. The stars have also been told to use separate drinking water bottles during practice and matches and have also been advised to maintain distance even while on the ground.
Written by: Yash Chawla. Yash is former Anchor of NDTV with over 9 years of experience as a sports journalist.