VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s top flight soccer teams were among the first in Europe to resume training again after the COVID-19 stoppage, yet the season is now hanging in the balance over the question of how to deal with a player who tests positive.
The Austrian Bundesliga’s plan to re-start was thrown into doubt last week when it was told by the Health Ministry that if a player was infected, his team would be placed into quarantine plus the opposing side if they had just played a match.
The league’s chief executive Christian Ebenbauer said afterwards that the decision had left the sword of Damocles hanging over the league as a positive case would prevent both teams for playing for at least 14 days.
Austria was one of the first European countries to loosen a lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and professional teams were allowed to start training again on April 22, albeit with players divided into small groups.
But the initial optimism was dampened last Thursday when the Health Ministry laid down the policy about dealing with an infected player.
“It was a knockout blow for team sport in general,” Ebenbauer told the newspaper Der Standard in an interview on Monday.
The situation in Austria is likely to be watched by other leagues, such as neighbouring Switzerland, who are also working on plans for a re-start.
Ebenbauer said the Bundesliga’s negotiations with the government had been based on “positive signals” from Minister of Sport Werner Kogler.
“We have worked intensively together with doctors and experts on the concept of how we can best start operations under the strictest safety requirements,” he said.
“The Ministry of Health is ultimately responsible but our contact person is the Ministry of Sport and our concept was known to the public long before this date. The fact that we were not told that it was not possible to avoid collective quarantine despite a thorough testing system is painful.”
The next meeting of Bundesliga clubs is due to take place on Thursday and Ebenbauer said he was not giving up.
“It is not us but the government that decides under which conditions Bundesliga matches can be played,” he said. “We must then decide whether these requirements make sense from a sporting and economic point of view. But there is still hope.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge