The Perils of Longing

Is it worth it? Is it really worth it? That’s something that I have been asking myself for a while now. On Wednesday, the 6th of May, a visibly annoyed Angela Merkel gave the green light for the Bundesliga to return from its COVID-19 hiatus. The following day, it was announced that the first games would be played as early as the 15th.

With the Bundesliga sure to take center stage in terms of global sports, droves of people took to social media to declare their excitement for the return of live football. “Some positive news at last”, some proclaimed. Curiously, most of the giddiness surrounding the news came from abroad; mostly from people who don’t follow the league.

The tone in Germany, and from regular Bundesliga viewers, was more somber. Personally, I’ve been against the resumption of the Bundesliga since it was announced that teams would start training in small groups back at the start of April. Upon learning of the Bundesliga’s planned return, I was overcome with utter melancholy. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so irresponsible and short-sighted.

Of course, there’s complexity in uncertainty and there’s beauty in the nuance of this situation since there was, and still is, no objectively right or wrong solution to the problem. If the Bundesliga doesn’t return, some clubs will go bankrupt. If the Bundesliga does return, it sets a dangerous precedent. It’s a step towards normality, in a situation where everything is all but normal. Normalcy is something that people have been crying out for, but is it worth it?

The lockdown has already been eased in Germany, barbershops have opened up again and people are starting to go about their daily lives in a more familiar manner, but concurrently, there has been a substantial rise in Coronavirus cases. While Angela Merkel has rightly been showered with praise for how she has handled this incredibly difficult situation, it seems that, at some point, people will stop caring and start ignoring social distancing guidelines. God forbid, it’s nowhere near as bad as in the UK or the US, who have made international headlines for the sheer incompetence of their leaders, but I’m once again asking: is it worth it?

The tip of the iceberg was the Salomon Kalou incident. It revealed that Hertha BSC players weren’t adhering to social distancing guidelines and provided purported proof that similar things are happening at other clubs. Furthermore, Köln coach Markus Gisdol has stated that he will not be wearing a mask when giving instructions to his players. Clearly, there’s already a disconnect between what the authorities are advocating for and what people are doing – and the league hasn’t even started back up again!

There’s also the distinct possibility that we’re all just overreacting. After all, the start of the new K League season has been a glorious success. The Twitter live stream of the opening game between last season’s champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and FA Cup winners Suwon Samsung Bluewings amassed more than three million views, with thousands if not millions more tuning in on television, Youtube and other streaming services. The little bursts of crowd noise, played over the speakers at Fort Jeonju, gave a liberating reprieve from the deafening silence emanating from the stands and Simon Hill’s expert commentary, although echoey, brought back memories of simpler times.

There is one key difference, however, and that is that South Korea has been a lot more successful at dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic than Germany. 256 people have died from the novel Coronavirus in South Korea, which is almost incomparable to the more than 7000 who have fallen victim to the outbreak in Germany. The last time South Korea recorded more than 20 new daily cases was April 17th. New cases in Germany have exceeded the 1000 mark for three days straight now.

Please don’t congregate outside of the stadium when your team is playing! (Ralf Treese/DeFodi/Getty)

This lockdown has been incredibly taxing mentally and financially, and even the most privileged of people have faced never before seen levels of inconvenience – and they’ve made sure to tell you about it. Some have resorted to protesting, others have become conspiracy nuts. Former Borussia Dortmund player Ned Zelic, who is now back in his native Australia working as a pundit and commentator, has spent his time in lockdown crusading against the World Health Organization and CNN, for some reason. Much-maligned Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren has resorted to regurgitating David Icke propaganda. Maybe we do need football back?

A lot of people have also been confronted with the true face of capitalism for the first time during this pandemic. Millions have become unemployed, football clubs, bankrolled by billionaires, have exploited government schemes to furlough their staff, because, at the end of the day, their millions are more important to them than the lives of their employees. It’s been a disappointing but equally eye-opening experience for a lot of fans, but I digress.

The economy of football is an interesting factor, though. There were reports that Schalke 04, one of Germany’s biggest clubs, could go bankrupt if play doesn’t resume soon. How is that even possible? How – in a business that throws around money like fine china at a traditional German “Polterabend” – is a club as big as Schalke seemingly always operating on the verge of bankruptcy? In the wake of this pandemic, the people in charge of football clubs need to have a stern look in the mirror and come to the realization that there needs to be fundamental change.

Players themselves have expressed concerns about the continuation of the season as well. Union Berlin’s Neven Subotic has spoken out against the decision, but more importantly, for me personally at least, is what the captain of Bayern München’s women’s team, Melanie Leupolz, said about the matter. She is worried that women won’t get the same testing as men. That’s a very valid point. I don’t think anyone doubts that Bundesliga stars will get adequate testing, but the Frauen-Bundesliga has continually been treated as an afterthought by the DFB and there is no guarantee that, if the women’s top-flight were to start back up again, the testing there will be as thorough and that the same safety measures will be put in place.

There have already been multiple confirmed cases at Bundesliga clubs and the entire squad and staff of 2. Bundesliga side Erzgebirge Aue had to go into quarantine because of a confirmed incident at the club. Some have used this as evidence that the Bundesliga’s new safety protocol works, others think that the ten or so confirmed cases are already ten too many. One thing is clear, though, the virus attacks the respiratory system and could compromise the health of athletes long-term, so again, is it worth it?

Ultimately, there is no way of knowing if the resumption of the Bundesliga is good or incredibly stupid yet. I don’t even know if anything I said makes any sense whatsoever and I’m sorry if there’s no illuminating message to take from this, but I’m gonna leave you with one thing. It’s the title of one of my favorite records, it’s by a band called Sunsleeper and it rings especially true right now:

You can miss something and not want it back.

Football has been sorely missed, no doubt about it, but it seems that the innocent yearning for live sport, which has been expressed by the people in power, is merely a facade. The main driving force behind the resumption of the Bundesliga is pure, unhinged capitalist greed and it’s endangering the lives of everybody.

So, as the league readies itself for an onslaught of attention, as the silence in stadiums gives way to the shouting of combatants putting their health on the line, and as you and I look forward with either child-like giddiness or soul-crushing dread to watch twenty-two sweaty men chase after a ball again, I’m asking for one final time, is it really worth it?


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