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Germany’s top soccer league returns Saturday; sports watch with trepidation, hope

The Bundesliga is the first European league to resume its season: “It can act as an example for all leagues."

When the German Bundesliga coronavirus lockdown ends Saturday, a sense of normalcy will be restored to sports with a very unusual feel. The sporting world and national leaders will be watching with as much trepidation as hope.

“The Bundesliga is going to be important,” Colombia President Ivan Duque said. “It’ll be the benchmark.”

The first major European soccer league to resume is about so much more than filling the void for socially distancing soccer obsessives stuck on their sofas. If German clubs can safely play on during the pandemic, it would rouse competitions worldwide planning their own restarts following an unprecedented peacetime hiatus.

“The whole world is watching Germany to see how we do it,” Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick said. “It can act as an example for all leagues. Then sport in general might be able to get going again. At the moment, it’s important to implement things exactly as required. We have a big role-model function.”

The French league already abandoned its season on government orders, but England, Spain and Italy have the backing of authorities to plan on resuming in June.

“We can share solutions,” said Brighton manager Graham Potter, whose team is fighting for English Premier League survival, “because whether you’re in the Bundesliga or the Premier League, no one’s been through this before.”

Playing during a pandemic is a costly, rigorous business that requires a medical protective shield being placed around teams. Players, coaches and support staff will require regular coronavirus testing to swiftly detect infections. Stadiums and equipment will require disinfecting to ensure sport is not spreading a virus lacking a vaccine.

Though Bundesliga players won’t be wearing face masks on the field, everyone else in the stadium will be, apart from when coaches relay instructions from the bench area while maintaining distance of about 1½ yards.

“It must be clear to everyone in the league that we’re on probation,” Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert said, “and every match day is a chance to prove we deserve to take the next steps.”

No fans will be present.

The sound of silence will be most notable Saturday when Borussia Dortmund hosts Schalke in the Bundesliga’s Ruhr derby. The Yellow Wall will be a sea of yellow and black emptiness, uninterrupted by supporters.

“It’s strange and unfamiliar,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said. “It makes your heart bleed.”

Teams are warnings fans to stay away from even gathering outside stadiums.

“We appeal to the reason and sense of responsibility of the fans,” Bayern Munich posted on its website ahead of Monday’s trip to Union Berlin. “Please do not travel to the away game in Berlin, please stay away from the stadium!”

But the power of sports to connect communities has been reinforced in their absence and why so many coaches, players and fans are hoping the Bundesliga experiment works.

“People have their identities tied up in clubs,” said Erik Sviatchenko, captain of Danish league leader Midtjylland. “Their lives revolve around football. So, some of the morale is going to be lifted when football returns.”

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