Despite rigid hygiene guidelines for the restart of the Bundesliga this weekend, a leading German sports doctor has warned footballers are still at risk of suffering “irreversible” and potentially career-ending lung damage from the coronavirus.
With Europe’s other top leagues at least a month away from resuming, the German Football League (DFL) has drawn up strict rules for when games restart today.
The DFL says while no plan could ever be “100 per cent safe”, the guidelines aim to create a playing environment with a low, “medically-justifiable risk”.
But professor Wilhelm Bloch, from the German Sports University in Cologne, warns that contracting the coronavirus has the potential to end a player’s career.
“There is a risk that top athletes may lose their level of performance and never regain it,” he said. “Generally, the physical make-up, immune system and cardiovascular system of elite athletes means that the risk to them is low.
“However, we do not know at this time whether even minor infections, or even mild symptoms, do not cause damage, such as minor scarring of the lungs after an inflammation.
“This damage may be irreversible, or may last a very long time before the body repairs it.”
He added that it is near impossible to estimate what the risk is to footballers in Germany, which had 174,975 cases of the virus and over 7,900 deaths as of yesterday.
“Players are not in total quarantine, they are with their families, even if they have been instructed to limit contact,” he said.
“And there are also risks during matches.
“They will all be tested, but not all the coronavirus tests work perfectly. There is a relatively large margin of error.”
The sports doctor also wonders how players can be expected to throw themselves into tackles after weeks of being told to observe social distancing.
“I’m not a psychologist, it’s difficult to assess, but I think it’s going to be a difficult transition and it won’t necessarily be good for their performance,” he said.
“It’s also going to be one of those factors that you have to consider and one of the risk factors for injury.”