When did the COVID-19 pandemic break out? This is still debated. There is some evidence that the answer is “earlier than we thought”. The actual timeline of the pandemic may take quite some time to uncover but that’s probably not the most important aspect today. But the date at which the pandemic started to spread seriously in Europe – especially Spain and Italy – is known: on February 19, the date when Atalanta hosted Valencia at the San Siro stadium in Milan. The match was attended by almost a quarter of Bergamo’s population and thousands of Valencia fans. The virus was there, too, hiding, spreading among the tens of thousands of attendees, even the players and the officials. The match that went down in history as “Game Zero” is responsible for the rapid spread of the disease in the Bergamo area, turning it into one of the epicentres of the disease.
Sports were among the first events suspended by governments across Europe due to their very nature – they are known to gather large masses of fans to the same place where they shout and chant at unison. Now that the first wave of the pandemic appears to be over, sports are returning to stadiums. Bundesliga has returned in the middle of May, and Premier League followed a month later. In most other countries, matches are back on the menu. Almost everywhere, fans aren’t allowed to enter the stadiums – there are a few exceptions, though. The leagues’ representatives are taking all measures to ensure the safety and health of the players and the staff. Still, there are many who consider that even with these, football has returned too soon.
The pandemic is NOT over yet
The number of people infected with the novel coronavirus is decreasing across Europe as we speak. Most countries have reopened their borders and are welcoming tourists, too. Hotels, restaurants, pubs, cinemas are opening. But this doesn’t mean the disease disappeared: people are required to keep their distance and cover their faces for a reason.
As the strictest measures are being eased, many countries see at least temporary surges in their infected counts showing that we are not out of the water just yet.
Outside the stadiums
Fans are not allowed to enter the stadiums – but how about gathering outside them? There is no regulation against fans gathering at home, in front of a big-screen TV, cheering for their favourite team, right? Especially after long weeks and months spent mostly at home, social distancing…
Weeks before “Project Restart” was triggered, several clubs have expressed their concerns about their fans’ inability to contain their enthusiasm about football’s return and inadvertently triggering a flare-up of cases. And it wasn’t just the clubs – nearly half of all adults (about 40% of all adults interested in the Premier League) consider that it is too soon for football to return, according to the results of a recent YouGov poll.
Was resuming the Premier League season a rushed decision? I guess we’ll see in a few days.