01:19 GMT20 October 2020
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    Professional football across Europe ground to a halt in March when the COVID-19 outbreak began to hit Italy, then Spain and eventually all of the continent. Now, with the worst of the crisis believed to be over, several countries have been given the whistle to kick off again.

    European sports fans have been deprived of action for almost two months as the infectiousness of the coronavirus meant games involving physical contact were suddenly major risks not only to the players but also to the fans.

    In fact there have been widespread allegations the contagion was worsened by two specific matches - Atalanta v Valencia on 19 February and Atletico Madrid’s visit to Liverpool on 11 March, in which the Spanish club knocked out the Champions’ League holders.

    Around 40,000 Atalanta fans travelled from the club’s home town of Bergamo - which was to become the epicentre of the virus - to Milan, where the game was staged.

    COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people in Italy, 32,000 in Britain and 26,000 in Spain but experts believe it has peaked and some leagues are ready to resume their interrupted seasons.

    Germany

    Germany has suffered far less than other big European countries - with only 7,569 deaths, which amounts to only 90 per one million of population - and the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has given the go ahead for the season to resume.

    The German Football League (DFL) decided last week to resume the Bundesliga on Saturday, 16 May, making it the first top level league to take that step.

    ​German teams are in isolation together and the matches will be played behind closed doors, with only a handful of staff and officials in attendance, plus television cameras beaming the games back to grateful football fans at home.

    The most mouth-watering fixture is the Ruhr valley derby, betwen Borussia Dortmund and their old rivals Schalke 04. Both teams are sequestered in hotels within their respective stadiums and Schalke’s players will take a coach to the Westfalenstadion before the game on Saturday afternoon.

    ​Bundesliga officials are desperate to complete the season by 30 June and have set up strict regulations for training and matches, including regular testing of players for COVID-19.

    On Saturday, 9 May, Dynamo Dresden’s entire team was placed in quarantine for 14 days after two players tested positive. They play in the Bundesliga’s second tier.

    Borussia Dortmund Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Watzke told the Funke media group: "We always expected that the remainder of this season will not be trouble-free. These tests and results are also a sign of our transparency."

    Borussia are four points behind league leaders Bayern Munich but the Bavarians have to come to Dortmund at the end of the month.

    Italy

    Italy’s top division, Serie A, was suspended on 9 March and an extraordinary meeting of club representatives is to discuss the issue of resuming the league on Wednesday, 13 May.

    ​Comcast, DAZN and IMG, who collectively own Serie A’s broadcasting rights, have not paid the final 220 million euro instalment of the 2019/2020 season.

    The Italian football federation (FIGC) wants the season to be completed behind closed doors, without spectators.

    The Italian government has not decided whether to give its blessing to such a scenario, although it lifted a ban on players training last week.

    An unidentified Torino player tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, 8 May.

    Torino’s president, Urbano Cairo, is among the most reluctant to resume the season and said last week Italy should be concentrating on next season.

    England

    Officials from the 20 Premier League clubs are holding a meeting on Monday, 11 May, about how to resume and complete the 2019/20 season.

    Project Restart, as it is known, was given little encouragement from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who made no mention of professional sport in his speech on Sunday evening.

    On Monday the government clarified matters, by saying professional sport would not be able to start before 1 June.

    But step two of the government's plan includes "permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact."

    ​Liverpool - who have never won the Premier League title - are currently 25 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table and even City fan Noel Gallagher conceded they should be crowned champions.

    But the three relegation spots are still up for grabs with Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham all level on 27 points and Aston Villa - who have a crucial game in hand - two points behind.

    It has been suggested that the remaining Premier League games be played behind closed doors at neutral venues but the chairmen of several clubs, including relegation-threatened Brighton, have objected.

    ​The FA Cup has also reached its quarter final stage but the prospect of the final being played at Wembley without fans is almost too much to bear for most English football fans.

    Spain

    Spain has been decimated by COVID-19 and one of the youngest casualties was Francisco Garcia, 21, a youth team coach at Atletico Portada Alta, who died in March.

    But the daily number of coronavirus deaths fell to 143 on Sunday, 10 May, the lowest figure since 18 March and the President of La Liga, Javier Tebas, said on Monday, 11 May, the season would resume on 12 June.

    ​Every club in Spain's top two divisions began testing players last week and the champions, Barcelona, have started individual training, the second step of the league's four-phase protocol for returning to action.

    Real Madrid resumed individual training on Monday, 11 May.

    Mr Tebas told the Movistar TV network: "I'd like to restart on June 12 but we have to be prudent and it's not just up to football, it's also up to society, we all need to focus on complying with measures to protect health."

    He confirmed that spectators would not be allowed into stadiums to watch the matches but said they would come up with "some innovative ideas for broadcasting the games.”

    Barcelona are currently two points ahead of their arch-rivals Real Madrid, who beat them 2-0 in the last El Classico of the season on 1 March.

    France

    France is out of kilter with the big European football leagues, having curtailed the season as early as 30 April.

    On that day the French football league decided Paris St Germain would be crowned champions of Ligue 1 and there would be no more games until the 2020/2021 season kicks off in August or September.

    ​PSG were 12 points clear of Marseille but Lyon, who were in seventh place, hit out at the authorities, claiming it would suggest to other countries that the French were less passionate about football than their neighbours.

    Lyon put out a statement saying: "How can we fight with our foreign competitors who, in the vast majority, chose to wait cautiously to restart their championship? How can we prevent the gap from widening further between French football and all the other major European countries?"

    But they got little support from the other French clubs.

    Lyon have reached the last 16 of this season's Champions League and are still awaiting a date for their match with Juventus.

    Toulouse and Amiens, who were well adrift at the foot of the table, were relegated and Marseille and Rennes given places in next season’s Champions League alongside PSG.

    Netherlands

    The Dutch were the first to give up on the 2019/2020 season.

    But unlike the French, they decided not to hand the title to Ajax, who were level on points with AZ Alkmaar.

    They also decided to dispense with relegation or promotion, which was good news for bottom place RKC Waalwijk and struggling Den Haag but was greeted with dismay by Cambuur, who were 11 points clear at the top of the second tier.

    The club are based in the small town of Leeuwarden and their managing director, Ard de Graaf, described the ruling as “very illogical and unfair”.

    Switzerland

    The Swiss Super League was suspended on 23 February but clubs returned to training on 11 May.

    The date of 20 June has been mooted for a resumption of the league but some clubs believe the season should be abandoned.

    When the league was halted, Saint Gallen and Young Boys Berne were level on points at the top of the table.

    ​Sion, who were languishing in eighth place, cancelled several players' contracts, including those of former Arsenal pair Alex Song and Johan Djourou, and their president Christian Constantin is dead set against resuming the season behind closed doors.

    He said: "Ninety-three percent of our resources come from ticket office sales, members and sponsors, and only seven percent from television rights. Resuming the season behind closed doors would make us lose a lot of money.”

    But Young Boys’ general manager, Wanja Greuel, disagreed: "We want to continue the season, to determine a champion, the clubs qualified in European cups, and relegation.”

    Mr Greuel said not completing the season would be "disastrous for the entire football family."

    Russia

    The Russian Premier League has suggested resume its season on 21 or 28 June.

    The league has been discussing with health authorities the best way to resume group training sessions.

    Zenit St Petersburg are currently nine points ahead of Lokomotiv Moscow, with Akhmat Grozny and Krylia Sovetov staring relegation in the face.

     

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    football, France, La Liga, Serie A, English Premier League, Bundesliga
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