No more getting a haircut just before the holidays, Christmas must be celebrated among the smallest-possible circle of family or friends, and New Year’s Eve fireworks have been banned – the lockdown is getting on everyone’s nerves.
But switch on the TV in Germany over the next few days and you’ll be able to watch the traditional Four Hills ski-jumping tournament, just as you can every other year. The only difference: no cheering crowds at the bottom of the jump. And the Bundesliga is to start back up just after the new year arrives.
This is a thorn in the side of some. They argue that professional sports, above all football, should be showing solidarity with the general public and living up to their function as role models. In other words, professional sports should shut things down. After all, in some places, even if an amateur player wanted to take to the football pitch alone, he or she would be forbidden from doing so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As regrettable as this situation is, the conclusion is illogical. If you were to apply this logic more widely, you could also argue that Volkswagen should stop building cars, that home-improvement professionals stop working, that the railroads stop operating trains – all out of solidarity, as a signal of absolute standstill in the pandemic.
Actually, the opposite is true. Anyone who has the opportunity to work in a well-regulated and safe environment should do so.
Cold-hearted professionalism trumps skepticism
In this respect, the Bundesliga has lived up to its exemplary role – but in a completely different way than the critics would prefer. DFL (German Football League) CEO Christian Seifert was sharply criticized back in April when he unveiled the Bundesliga’s hygiene concept and declared his intention to restart play. Football became a political issue, and a poll commissioned by DW showed that most Germans were skeptical about the restart. It took Seifert’s very good political connections, a lot of money and yes, also cold-hearted professionalism – to push his plan through. With all of the factors required, it was clear that only football had the clout to blaze this trail.
As cycling fans know: Whoever rides in front of the pack faces the strongest headwind. Seifert and the DFL faced it as well, but after the first games behind closed doors were played, the headwind quickly dissipated. In the DFL’s slipstream, other sports such as cycling and tennis soon followed in their own bubbles. The DFL’s successful return to play drew a lot of positive attention – and not just in Germany.
“The Bundesliga was ahead of the curve,” former US national team player and current soccer pundit Taylor Twellman told DW at the time. “The plan has often been cited as a blueprint for the return to play of the MLS, MLB and NBA.”
Containing the virus works
The hygiene concept works until this day. Outbreaks of infections at Cologne and Hoffenheim demonstrated this, as they were quickly contained. The Bundesliga clubs have the financial means required to make this work: frequent and regular tests, high standards of hygiene during travel, and complete contact tracking. All of this is clearly impossible to implement at the amateur level, so as painful as it is, shutting down amateur sports during the lockdown was the right decision.
Among those to highlight this key difference is German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who recently defended the decision to allow the Bundesliga to continue play during the pandemic.
“You always have to note that professional sports are professional,” he said.
The health minister also debunked the critics’ strongest argument – the question of testing capacities. While testing capacity was scarce during the first wave of COVID-19, he said, availability is now “very, very high.” So the ski jumpers, footballers and handball players are not draining any capacity that might be more urgently required elsewhere.
Romance dead in huge business
Those who still call for the Bundesliga to shut down obviously cling to a very romantic notion of the beautiful game. In reality, football is a gigantic business. There is no longer any sign of the humility that football functionaries were expressing at the start of the pandemic. Million-euro transfers like that of Leroy Sane in the summer are ample evidence of this. At the same time, this huge business is threatening to devour its main protagonists: The jam-packed schedule in this season of the pandemic is taking a huge toll on the players.
These are fair points of criticism. But they concern the “how” and not the question of whether or not to play.