The German Bundesliga returned on Saturday and it was a welcome return, although it still served as a constant reminder of the new, altered world we now live in.
Some sports leagues around the world have come back in some fashion already. Baseball in South Korea returned to some fanfare thanks to ESPN broadcasting some of the games. Korea has a good baseball league, but it's a major step down from Major League Baseball. The Bundesliga is among the top four soccer leagues in the world and features some of the elite club teams in the game. In my mind, it marks the beginning of the return of high-level sports.
Professional leagues in Belarus and Nicaragua have been playing, but if you watched a game from either of those before the pandemic halted sports everywhere you are among a rare portion of the population, to say the least. I know Bundesliga teams. I know some of the players. The familiarity makes this notable.
The first televised game, Borussia Dortmund-Schalke, is a huge rivalry, but had no fans in the stands. You can hear the players communicating on the field echoing in the stadium.
European soccer being played in front of an empty stadium isn't all that rare. Fans will be banned for a game or two because of bad behavior. It happens. Plus, if you watch international youth tournaments like me, seeing a meaningful game played in a big, mostly empty stadium isn't new. That made this less strange than it would be watching an NBA or MLB game in an empty stadium.
That said, there were still differences. The players and referee weren't wearing facemasks, but the fourth official and some of the coaches and team staff were. The photographers behind the goals were wearing facemasks as well. It's hard to say those are a bad idea if they help slow the spread of the coronavrius, but if people think they are necessary, is it really safe to play?
The players are already on the field in close contact, sweating, breathing heavy and yelling at each other to communicate. If there is a risk, the damage is already done. It was amusing to see players celebrate goals without the typical hugs and kisses.
Dortmund cranked up the celebration music after each of their four goals. The PA announcer was involved. Who is he talking to? It doesn't really matter, but it was an effort to replicate as much of a normal match as possible.
In terms of quality, the first five or 10 minutes of the Dortmund-Schalke game were a bit rough. Sloppy touches, bad passes. Maybe unsurprisingly, it felt a bit off. Things picked up and Dortmund ended up showing its fun style throughout the last hour of the match.
Despite all the things that made it a weird experience, there were moments of much-needed normalcy in there. At moments, I noticed myself yelling at the players for doing something stupid or reacting to impressive plays. We have a long way to go still, but it's nice to have some high-level live sports back in our lives.
Filed under: International