German sports clubs could face ‘abyss’ amid coronavirus pandemic

By Jens Mende and Andreas Schirmer, dpa

Like many other areas of society German professional sports is suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. Creative solutions are needed to avoid “the abyss.”

Positive coronavirus tests and financial hardship as a result of the pandemic are battering German sports, and rising infection rates in general don’t bode well for the upcoming cold season amid warnings that “the abyss” may not be far away.

Bundesliga and other professional football clubs have seen their hope for attendance slashed by regional health authorities, but at least positive tests for Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry and others have not – yet – led to the cancellation of top flight games.

Things look different in other sports though, with Germany’s basketball cup tournament set for early November cancelled after six players from title holders Alba Berlin contracted the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

At the same time, the top tiers of basketball, ice hockey, volleyball and handball are having problems gaining access to a government relief fund of 200 million euros (237 million dollars), according to German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) president Alfons Hoermann on Friday.

“Many clubs are facing the abyss,” Hoermann bluntly told public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

“The very complicated implementation provisions from this emergency aid programme do not allow many to submit applications, even though they fear for their existence.”

Hoermann said that only 25 million euros have been distributed so far because “some of the regulations contradict the licensing procedures” and warned that “many clubs will go bankrupt without having the chance to fall back on the programme.”

The DOSB president has said that professional, amateur and real grassroots sports have elaborate hygiene concepts and must be kept going because they are an important part of society as a whole.

But just how that will work amid rising infection rates and new restrictions remains to be seen.

“It is something we have to expect and applies to all sports,” Alba official Marco Baldi said in reference to the cancelled cup event in basketball.

Baldi said that creativity and flexibility are needed now because “we don’t know how often it will happen again” that players test positive.

The volleyball women’s Bundesliga has changed its match schedules on short notice amid positive tests.

“It is about keeping the league and our sport alive,” said Felix Koslowski, coach of German champions Schwerin and the national team.

Officials agree that abandoning the season would mean the end for many clubs, and even having to play behind closed doors hits basketball, volleyball, handball and ice hockey much harder than football because ticket sales are their main source of income.

Ice hockey’s top flight DEL has delayed the start of the season several times, but is now finally ready to accept the unthinkable of playing without fans and has scheduled a test tournament with eight of the 14 clubs starting in November – with mixed reactions.

Eisbaeren Berlin managing director Peter John Lee welcomed that “our sports is returning into the public eye.”

But Augsburg Panthers official Lothar Sigl said his club is not participating because “without a proper perspective over a DEL season start there is no point in raising the cost structure and to worsen the precarious economic situation which we are still in.”

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