My home country, Israel, was once hailed one of the world’s safest in dealing with COVID-19. Israeli authorities felt they had beaten the virus and allowed many aspects of life to virtually return to normal.
But after a record number of infections — almost 5,000 per day — Israel has become the first developed country to impose a second lockdown.
In Germany, fans are set to return to Bundesliga stadiums. Representatives of Germany’s 16 states are allowing for up to 20% of stadium’s capacity to be filled. Final decisions will be left to local health authorities and be subject to clubs’ hygiene concepts and the infection numbers in different regions.
That’s good news for the many fans longing to visit their home stadium, but it raises many questions as to whether social distancing rules, which apply to so many, can be upheld inside a football venue.
It’s not the social distancing rules that make this decision problematic. It’s some of what’s behind it. Earlier this year, the German football league (DFL) was lauded for its hygiene plan that allowed the Bundesliga to finish last season with hardly any interruptions, albeit behind closed doors.
Securing football’s return was indeed an achievement. However, while everything seemingly went to plan, the risk German football took on the health of players, staff, journalists and matchday employees should not be forgotten. It was an educated risk, but still a risk, especially given the amount of knowledge of the virus available back then — or lack thereof.
Fans returning for the first Bundesliga matchday of the season is a similar gamble. Clubs have said they would do everything in their power to ensure hygiene rules are enforced. But during the first round of the German Cup this past weekend, fans could be seen singing and shouting at venues in which spectators were allowed to attend in large numbers.
Let’s be clear: While it’s up to every single one of us to stick to the rules, the onus is on the authorities, the clubs and the league to ensure health and hygiene conditions are in place in the first place. If these conditions cannot be guaranteed, thousands of fans should not return to stadiums.
The fact they are about to says a lot about the DFL’s priorities and the risk the organization is willing to take for the sake of securing extra income. And it’s not the first instance in which it has put profits first. It’s a shame the authorities still don’t hold it accountable.
Let’s be clear, clubs advising fans not to take public transport and arrive by other means doesn’t cut it. Clubs marking seats and keeping fans’ details to prevent potential infections going further isn’t enough. Clubs obliging fans to wear masks when they’re not able to fully enforce it doesn’t do the trick either. It only takes one infected person not to abide by the rules for the situation to become a disaster, both in terms of spectators’ health and professional football’s reputation in German society.
There are quite a few objective differences between Israel and Germany, but in many respects, the authorities’ decision-making reminds me of home in the worst way possible. I can only hope the result will be different in Germany and that football won’t become part of the reason the government would reimpose restrictions after a rise in infections.
I’m certainly not holding my breath.