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German football outlines plan for May return

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Berlin (AFP)

The German football league is set to announce plans Thursday for the Bundesliga to restart without spectators in the first half of May, but a move hailed as a welcome return to normality by some is meeting opposition from some scientists and fans.

The Bundesliga would be the major European league to restart, potentially making it the focus of sports fans starved of action across the world.

Germany has been less affected by the coronavirus pandemic than other European countries, partly due to mass testing.

That situation has allowed the leaders of the powerful states of Bavaria -- home to reigning German champions Bayern Munich -- and the football hotbed state of North-Rhine Westphalia to back football's resumption, albeit in empty stadiums.

But the move to allow players back onto the pitch is being treated with caution.

Bavaria state leader Markus Soeder made it clear that football will not be given a "blank cheque" to continue at a time of competing funding priorities, and the situation will be constantly reviewed.

"I can imagine that things will develop from one match day to the next," he said.

The German league (DFL) will still need the green light from Angela Merkel's government and the heads of Germany's states to resume.

Germany's top 36 clubs, who make up the first and second divisions, were meeting via video conference Thursday to outline details of the restart.

According to the Bild daily, a leaked 41-page document states the goal is for matches to be played "with an acceptable medical risk".

One scenario envisages matches starting on May 9, while other plans set May 16 as the target date.

It is planned that the league season will finish by June 30, which would free up around 300 million euros ($323 million) in television money, an essential boost for several cash-strapped clubs.

Only up to 300 people -- players, coaches, officials, stewards and media -- would be allowed in stadiums for each match.

Players and backroom staff will be tested before and after games to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

There is also debate about whether the squads should be quarantined in separate hotels to further reduce the risk.

- 'Follow the rules' -

According to DFL calculations, around 22,000 tests, for players and club staff, will be needed to complete the league season.

The DFL's plan has the support of key politicians, most noticeably health minister Jens Spahn, but there are still further hurdles to clear.

Scientists at the Robert Koch Institute, which advises the government, and numerous health experts are sceptical about the testing of footballers in the midst of the pandemic.

Germany's police union has warned they expect locked-out fans to congregate outside stadiums on match days despite a nationwide ban on assemblies.

Even some groups of fans are critical of a restart, accusing the DFL and Germany's clubs of being motivated by money.

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert says the league has a duty to "repay the trust" shown by Germany's politicians.

Bayern Munich forward Thomas Mueller says the clubs must follow the rules in order to complete the season.

"As long as the rules (for the restart) are compatible with the laws and regulations, we will play, even if we have to be in quarantine," Mueller told Sport Bild magazine.

"It is quite clear that football would follow the rules."

Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was put on hold in March.

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