LA LIGA PLANS RETURN BY JUNE BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Daily tests for the coronavirus. Only two people in the gym at a time. Players dressing for practice at home.

These are just some of the protocols La Liga deems necessary to allow even practice to take place before Spanish top-flight games can resume.

The league has been on ice since March 12 owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but despite the ongoing nationwide lockdown, the league is gearing up to resume behind the scenes.

Rafael Ramos of the Spanish Association of Football Team Physicians told local radio on Thursday (April 23) night that La Liga is planning to return to action in stages, saying: “The idea according to La Liga is to (first) test everyone on April 28 and 29.”

Once that is out of the way, Javier Tebas, who is the league’s president, is targeting May 4 as the date for clubs to resume training, with the end of next month, if not June, for the return to play.

He said: “The scenarios we are looking at could see La Liga restart as early as May 28-29, but it could also be June 6-7 or even as late as June 28.”

The league appears to be leaving nothing to chance in official documents seen by the New York Times, despite the pursuit to get back on the field being driven by commercial reasons as much as sporting merit.

Tebas has said calling off the season, with 11 rounds to play, would amount to a financial catastrophe, costing teams as much as €1 billion (S$1.54 billion) in losses.

But with the world’s second-highest number of Covid-19 infections in Spain – over 219,000 cases and the third-highest number of deaths at over 22,500 as of yesterday – ensuring the safety of the players will be key to the competition resuming.

With that in mind, the league is aiming to start playing games without spectators in June.

To get there, it has consulted with experts to devise a month-long training protocol divided into four parts. Two days before the regimen begins, all players, coaches and staff deemed necessary to have contact with them will be tested for both Covid-19 symptoms and immunity to the virus.

The tests will continue throughout May, with players tested in their cars before being allowed to enter practice facilities.

A positive test at any point would result in the player being sent home to isolate until he is deemed no longer contagious. His teammates would also be sent home and tested again before being allowed to return.

However, La Liga’s proposal was yesterday slammed by the Spanish Footballers’ Association (AFE) as diverting away critical public health services.

It also reiterated concerns about returning to work while Covid-19 remains such a threat and said the players were wary of being stigmatised over utilising the large-scale testing despite other sections of society being in greater need of the facility.

A statement read: “AFE wishes to point out footballers have made it clear that other groups in society need tests and access to healthcare equipment more than they do.

“As workers, footballers will do as they are asked to by their clubs as long as there are no risks, which is why we believe it is absolutely necessary that the government provides clarity about testing.”

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale also feels La Liga is rushing its return too quickly, urging patience to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“Everyone wants to play football, but the most important thing is everyone stays safe, we don’t want to come back too early,” he told BT Sports. “We need to make sure everything is done safely so we avoid the second wave of this virus.”

Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez agreed with Bale, questioning if the plans made logical sense, adding: “Ask yourself if this is really a good idea. Is it safe? Isn’t our main concern everybody’s safety?”

The outbreak has also prevented Serie A players from returning to training, with Italian Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora earlier this week saying the government was not ready to set a resumption date.

Given the uncertainty, Italy’s football chiefs on Thursday announced that the end of the season will be pushed back from June 30 to Aug 2.

The German Bundesliga is likely to be the first European league to resume. Games could be played from May 9, pending state lawmakers’ approval.

The French Ligue 1 aims to start on June 17 but players are yet to return to training.

The English Premier League has not set a date to restart.

– AFP, REUTERS, NYTIMES