Culture

A Little Sign of Normal: Sports Are Coming Back In Europe

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette, right, attempts a shot at goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates stadium in London, England, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Soccer is coming back in Europe within a few days. Whether you care about soccer or hate it, it’s good to see some sport somewhere return to action. Your sports may be coming back soon too.

Germany’s Bundesliga will be the first to resume play, but the games will look a whole lot different than they looked before the plague.

Germany is set to allow the Bundesliga to resume behind closed doors, probably from next weekend – under strict conditions.

Sources have suggested that players will need to be quarantined together for a period of time before play can resume – with best guesses now being a week-long spell of isolation.

It’s gonna be weird. Soccer is a contact sport, with crunching tackles, and they don’t wear much safety gear on the field. Whenever a player scores, the rest of his team usually dogpiles him or they jump around and group hug.

The group hug part is why some Americans say they hate soccer. I mean, it’s not like we ever see hugs in baseball. Or the NFL.

Anyway.

The players will be quarantined for a week prior to games, and there will be no fans in the stands. The latter will be problem for lower league teams across the continent, as they rely on gate proceeds to fund their wages and operations. They don’t get the massive stadium naming rights and shirt deals that power the giant teams. Players at all levels are staring at pay cuts, which in the higher leagues will not leave any of them poor. In the lower leagues, where pay is low even in the best times, it may mean they don’t get paychecks for a while and some may wind up looking for work outside the sport…in the worst economy any of us has ever seen.

England’s Premier League, the most popular soccer league in the world, holds a key vote Monday on when it will return to action. Teams have been working out for a couple of weeks, but not together, and with social distancing enforced. The league will look weird too — no fans in the stands, and the possibility of playing all games in neutral venues have been proposed. Players will be quarantined and tested. One of the weirder proposals involved playing shorter halves, to shorten the games and keep the game load on the players as light as possible since they will have to play a very compressed schedule to finish the 2019-2020 season.

There are other questions out there that are likely to cause massive messes, including relegation and promotion based on the coronavirus-disrupted season. In Europe’s soccer leagues, teams can move up and down the ladder based on their performance, making them red in tooth and claw financially. NFL teams don’t have to worry about being kicked down to a lower league when they pull a 3-13 season. They just fire the coach and move on. European soccer teams that finish around the bottom of their league get booted to the next league down, and lose a lot of money along the way. Teams that finish high can get promoted to leagues above them, climbing a ladder in prestige and finances. So very large sums of money are on the line for clubs seeking promotion to higher leagues, and for the clubs that may fall into lower leagues. With large sums of money and the inherent disruption that the pandemic has wrought, lawyers stand by to file suits and make very large sums of money off the disputes.

And many clubs across Europe may end up in bankruptcy and going away.

But — sports are slowing coming back. We may see some baseball here yet, and football just might have a chance this fall.