Among the European leagues, the Bundesliga is the most unassuming and unpretentious. It doesn’t gloat over fancy stars, it doesn’t brag about tactical novelties, it doesn’t indulge in showboating of wealth, it seldom buys stars, but often sells them. But as the latest season concluded — predictably with Bayern Munich wrapping up the title and Robert Lewandowski snapping up the golden boot — the league has reasons to bask in the afterglow of its initiative to resume the season in the middle of the pandemic, the first high-profile competition in the coronavirus era.
When a sliver of uncertainty flashed across the sporting world, Bundesliga took a decisive step, installing the template to restart sport amid fear. It drilled home a lesson that sport needn’t be a casualty of the pandemic. The planning and execution of the league were flawless. The medical protocols, risk-assessment and player-monitoring were impeccable, and the officials were relieved that there wasn’t an instance of a player or support-staff member testing positive. Without the German league’s sense of purpose, its leadership and vision, none of its more ostentatious European cousins would have had the conviction or courage to press the restart button.
Missing, though, was the passionate crowd — games in Germany are the most attended in the world, and arguably the most colourful too. But in the circumstances, playing inside closed doors was the only alternative. As the CEO of the league, Christian Seifert, noted: “This isn’t the Bundesliga that we wanted or that we love, but it was the only Bundesliga that was possible.” But, on the other hand, the league gained more audience worldwide, for it was the only competitive sporting event running on television. If at least half of them return next year, the league’s viewership could leap over some of its counterparts. It also threw in a grim clue, though, as the rights for top-two division went for €200m less than the previous contract, forewarning that football, too, is heading for austerity-stricken days.
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