Austrian soccer league to restart in June


Austria league re-start after corona Image: ABB/Daniel Auer

The Austrian football Bundesliga is set to start in the beginning of June this year, but it will be ghost games sans spectators. The Sports Minister of Austria, Werner Kogler, and Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Tuesday at a press appointment with the governing body of football ÖFB, that they can restart games once again but under strict conditions.

The Austrian Football Bundesliga is the highest-ranking national league club competition in Austrian football. The competition decides the Austrian national football champions, as well as the country’s entrants for the various European cups run by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

The Austrian Football Association (Österreichischer Fußball-Bund; ÖFB) is the governing body of football in Austria. It organizes the football league, Austrian Bundesliga, the Austrian Cup and the Austrian national team, as well as its female equivalent. It is based in Austria’s capital, Vienna.

With team training and subsequent games getting the nod, the basis has been laid for restart of Austrian professional football. As announced on Tuesday, direct body contact training is allowed from Friday. About two weeks later, the cup final between Austrian football club Red Bull Salzburg and Austrian association football club Austria Lustenau could start.

Resuming plays for Bundesliga is then planned to start in early June. The 10 remaining rounds plus the three-game Europa League play-off are to be completed by July end, exclusively in English weeks.

The UEFA Europa League is an annual football club competition organized by UEFA since 1971 for eligible European football clubs.

Coronavirus angle

In the wake of a player contracting coronavirus, the Ministry of Health directive has it that only the concerned player will be quarantined. Said Christian Ebenbauer of the Institute for Systems Theory and Automatic Control, University of Stuttgart, Germany, “The other members of the Bundesliga club are encouraged to stay at home. They can, may and should go to the training sessions and games.”

Close-knit tests are being recommended to rule out further infections or at least to contain them to such an extent that the game can continue. Before the first team’s training gets rolling, all players, i.e., players as well as coaches, have to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

“Once the tests are done, they can then move, train and play freely in their surroundings, but are encouraged to minimize their social contacts,” added Ebenbauer.

A ‘health diary’ has also been provided. This includes, among other things, measuring the body temperature daily – “We have created the framework to defy the virus”, asserted Ebenbauer.

The league board also outlined that the restart of the championship will be accompanied by a scientific study – “This gives us data that can help the general public,” he further stated.

The 2nd League Club Conference was held on Tuesday. A continuation of the second-highest division, in which eleven rounds are still pending, has not been ruled out. So far, out of the 16 clubs, only cup finalist Austria Lustenau was allowed to train in small groups, that arrangement could change now.

“If the requirements of the prevention concept are met, then yes,” said Ebenbauer about second division teams’ training session due to start from Friday.

Like the Bundesliga board, Austria Sports Director Peter Stöger, member of a Bundesliga working group, was pleased with the decision announced on Tuesday to restart the Austrian soccer league – “It is clear to us that we have a great responsibility that we take on with this concept. We could have a pioneering role, and we will do it well,” the ex-team player promised.

Staying positive

ÖFB President Leo Windtner painted a bright picture as regards the future, praised the cooperation between all those involved and spoke of an “efficient double pass with the ministers and the ladies and gentlemen of the civil service”.

The decisions taken for the Bundesliga as the “flagship of club football in Austria” (Windtner) should show the way for grassroots football and other team sports. “This could be used to develop a role model that can also be used for other sports and social areas,” observed the Upper Austrian. Upper Austria is a State in northern Austria, bordering Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to Windtner, around 2,200 clubs and 300,000 players have registered with the ÖFB as the largest sports association in the country – all of them can hope to return to the pitch soon. A few weeks back, all leagues in the two highest divisions had been canceled.

“We will do everything so that the championships can start again in autumn. Because if there is an even bigger hole between games, then we would have to speak of a real corona hole,” stressed Windtner.

How long the ÖFB national team will have to wait cannot be told right now, said Windtner. Although “a triple header in September” has been currently confirmed by UEFA, “there is no presumptive timetable for autumn”. More information is expected in June. The last international match so far ended on November 19 last year in the European Championship qualification with a 0:1 in Riga against Latvia.

‘Soft light at the end of the tunnel’

The Austrian football club Rapid Vienna’s (based in Austria’s capital city Vienna) Managing Director Christoph Peschek maintained that the greenlight of ghost politics in the Bundesliga is a “soft light at the end of the tunnel” from the beginning of June. As Peschek emphasized in a broadcast by the Viennese on Tuesday, the games without spectators are, despite the “considerable economic damage”, simply and simply no alternative.

After all, the loss “would be even greater if it was broken off, and it would be associated with massive consequential damage”, observed Peschek, who at the same time hoped to “implement the announced financial support measures soon as Austrian football is still struggling to survive”, he further observed.

Decision welcomed

Red Bull Salzburg was also pleased over the restart development – “We (…) are pleased that the jointly developed concept has been well received,” said Salzburg Managing Director Stephan Reiter in a club broadcast.

Red Bull Salzburg Sport Director Christoph Freund stressed that “one is well aware of the great responsibility and role model for Austrian sport” and “wants to do everything for it” to do justice to the same.

Austrian professional footballer Zlatko Junuzović said, “It’s great that things can finally go on”, and promised that the prevention concept would be followed – “I’m optimistic that it won’t be a problem”.

Back to pitch

With the planned restart at the beginning of June, Austria’s soccer Bundesliga is in the European front. Germany’s Bundesliga will start on Saturday (May 16), followed by Hungary on May 23. At the end of May, it will be the turn of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Portugal. With the exception of Belarus, all leagues ceased operating in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

France has already decided to end the season from the top five leagues. England is working on the return in June as well as Italy and Spain, the two countries who have been hit hard by COVID-19. Overall, apart from France, only the Netherlands has already decided to abort.

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