Debate over fan-return to Bundesliga games could get lively

The agenda is unspectacular but the members meeting of the German football league (DFL) on Thursday could provide fireworks.

Not only will the 36 clubs of the top-flight Bundesliga and second division confirm the latest coronavirus hygiene protocol for the season and the continued use of five substitutes rather than three, but there will be further discussion over the return of fans to stadiums.

With millions of euros at stake, there is not yet an agreed unified approach.

Politicians in Germany extended the general ban on mass gatherings until the end of October last week but states can determine their own rules for smaller events.

“The Bundesliga should be fairly treated and not with a view to potential virtue signalling,” DFL chief executive Christian Seifert told Wednesday’s edition of the Sport Bild magazine. “It is not about signals rather about strategy.”

Seifert said it would be wrong, in view of the increasing number of coronavirus cases in Germany, to discuss full stadiums but that was not the intention of the league.

“What’s not okay is that businesses, to which the Bundesliga belongs, to be held responsible when people don’t observe hygiene rules privately and think they have to go to illegal parties,” he said.

Many Bundesliga teams in cooperation with the league have developed concepts to welcome back fans to stadiums when the league resumes this month.

RB Leipzig have been given permission to allow up to 8,500 fans entry to their match with Mainz, with face masks obligatory and social distancing in place.

Other clubs are in discussions with their local authorities over if and how many fans can be permitted.

This leaves the league in a dilemma. Bayern Munich would currently be allowed only 400 fans when they host Schalke in the September 18 curtain-raiser while Union Berlin could have up to 5,000 when they play a day later.

Would those fans give them an advantage – in terms of atmosphere and income – in a potential relegation battle if Mainz could have only 350, and others such as Werder Bremen (400) and VfB Stuttgart (500) also heavily restricted?

It was agreed at the end of August that away fans would not be permitted, standing sections would remain closed and alcohol sales forbidden.

But the question of sporting fairness remains for the league to determine. Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday said he understood the need for local decisions but a “nationally agreed” plan would be preferable.

The Bundesliga may welcome such a course too, if only to take a potentially difficult decision out of their hands.

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