In these days the possible resumption of the Serie A football championship is under discussion, starting – probably – from next June 20, 2020, and the ways to conclude it (including the possible play-off and play-out) are being considered. Since May 4, the 20 Serie A clubs have been operational again with individual training sessions, while from May 20, collective training sessions have resumed, in full compliance with the protocol of the FIGC (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio), recently validated by the Scientific Technical Committee of Civil Protection, which regulates, among other things, how to manage a possible positivity to Covid-19.


As all Italians know, as a result of the Coronavirus emergency, the Football Championship is being suspended from the 27th day, which should have been played on 13-14 March 2020 (the previous day had been played only partially). In fact, the DCPM of March 9, 2020 suspended (initially until April 3, 2020) all sporting events and competitions of any order and discipline, in public or private places (except for events organized by international sports organizations, behind closed doors). The Prime Minister’s Decree required sports associations and clubs to carry out appropriate checks to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 among athletes, technicians, managers, and all accompanying persons.
The suspension was then extended several times with the following Prime Ministerial Decrees of 1 April 2020, 10 April, 26 April and, most recently, 17 May, which extended the suspension of all championships until 14 June 2020.
Currently, the possible resumption is set for 20 June 2020, but the date has yet to be confirmed and a meeting is scheduled for 28 May between the FIGC, Lega Calcio and the Minister for Youth and Sport, Vincenzo Spadafora, who has declared that he will have to decide „if and when“ the sports season will restart. The recovery deadline is crucial, considering that UEFA has recommended the conclusion of all national tournaments by 2 August 2020.

The FIGC Protocol
On 19 May 2020, the FIGC’s protocol for the safe resumption of collective football training was finally validated by the Scientific Technical Committee for Civil Protection, which contains the requirements that clubs must comply with in order to resume training.
First, clubs will have to divide the team into „team groups“, each made up of players, coaches, masseurs, physiotherapists, warehousemen and social doctors. It is no longer obligatory for the players to retire without security, unless a positive person is found in the team group, who will necessarily have to be placed in quarantine. The team group will then be subjected to trustee isolation in an agreed structure and undergo clinical evaluation (swabs every 48 hours for two weeks). No member of the group can have external contact, but everyone can continue to train.
As regards the training methods, group work is allowed, including training matches, which should take place as much as possible outdoors: the sessions in the gym should initially be reduced to a minimum. A distance of at least 2 meters must be maintained in the changing rooms and showers will not be allowed inside the sports facilities.
Finally, the Protocol provides for several specific anti-accounting measures:
• coach and technical staff must wear face mask and maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters;
• players must reach the sports facilities with their own means and comply with the anti-accounting measures;
• club must set up a thermoscanner and a saturator at the entrance of the sports center;
• swabs will be carried out at the beginning of the collective activities, to be repeated every 4 days. The same for serological tests, to be repeated every 14 days.
Currently, all clubs are monitoring professionals and staff with coronavirus tests and screenings. The tests carried out after the resumption of individual sessions had negative results for almost all teams, with the exception of 6 positive cases for Fiorentina, 2 for Parma and 1 for Torino (the subjects as prescribed were placed in isolation). The names of the players were not communicated, for privacy reasons.
The FIGC is already at work preparing the new protocol that will govern future matches.
To the measures specified in the protocol may be added the indications contained in the vademecum of the scientific group of sports doctors of Serie A, sent to the clubs as early as the beginning of March 2020, containing the rules to avoid contagion, including not drinking from the same bottle, not eating in the changing room, storing personal items and clothing in personal bags, throwing paper handkerchiefs or other materials used such as patches, bandages, etc. immediately in the appropriate containers, washing hands thoroughly as often as possible, using special care when using common toilets, encouraging the use of automatic dispensers with disinfectant cleaning solutions, both in the changing rooms and in the toilets, not touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, coughing into their arms, cleaning their mouths and noses with a handkerchief, airing all the rooms as often as possible, cleaning tables, chairs, taps, avoiding award ceremonies or other forms of contact with the audience, using a single microphone in interviews to be disinfected each time, avoiding fans.

The critical points of the Protocol
1. Expensive compliance: the protocol has been considered very expensive both logistically and economically, and could therefore be guaranteed with difficulty by Serie B clubs (while Serie C and the amateurs have already confirmed the final stop of their respective championships);
2. Swabs: the number of swabs required, considering the frequency described above, is very high (we are talking about tens of thousands of swabs). Therefore there is a risk that it will be difficult to carry out all the required tests, considering that the Italian Footballers‘ Association (AIC) has expressly stated that it does not want to take advantage of preferential lanes for medical and health checks;
3. Criminal risk in the event of contagion: if players and staff members are infected there is a real risk that football clubs will be considered civilly liable and its managers criminally liable. Indeed, according to the „Cura Italia“ Decree, contagion from Covid-19 can be considered an accident at work, and clubs may be held liable if they fail to demonstrate that they have adopted all the precautions provided for by law (and not just the FIGC protocol).

The reasons to restart
During the COVID-19 tsunami, many people wondered whether it was necessary or appropriate to restart the football championship, given the risks involved in contact sports. However, statistics elaborated by the Istituto Superiore della Sanità two months after the beginning of the contagion, show that the risks for people under 60 years of age are very low, especially when they do not suffer from any pathology. On the other hand, the stop undoubtedly creates significant economic, legal, social, and psychological problems. Let us start with the latter. Sporting activity is a right of everyone, in particular for athletes who, deprived of the possibility of expressing themselves, could suffer considerable damage, also due – for example – to the fact that their health and performance conditions could worsen because of time passing, and particularly in situations of inactivity, to the point that in certain cases some careers could be permanently impaired. Sport is also an important social moment; playing matches in empty stadiums already causes undoubtedly a compression of these social moments. Completely banning them means going beyond compression, and perhaps poses a problem of a fair balance of interests at stake.
Then there are the economic and legal issues.
According to the „2019 Football Report“, published by the FIGC and produced by the Research and Legislation Agency (Arel) and the consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), in 2017-2018 the value of production of the three Italian professional championships (Serie A, Serie B and Lega Pro) exceeded 3.5 billion euros for the first time (of which 3 billion euros are attributable to the Serie A championship), an increase of 6% compared to the previous year.
According to the latest FIGC estimates, due to the coronavirus emergency, a loss of €424 million is already expected in 2020 (and €593 million in 2021), in addition to a further €294 million if it is decided to start playing behind closed doors again. The damage could be even greater if the season should be permanently suspended, for an estimated total of almost €800 million. This is certainly a huge damage for an industry that pays around 1.3 billion euros in tax and social security contributions and pays 2 billion euros in salaries to employees. The concrete risks are the bankruptcy of many companies (even 30% of C Series companies, according to unofficial estimates), a sharp drop in employment and a general disaffection of the public.
In addition to the economic damages mentioned above, failure to resume the league could also lead to severe sanctions by UEFA, which has clearly informed its 55 member football associations that, in the event of failure to resume the league at the end of the Coronavirus emergency, the clubs in those leagues will not be admitted to international Champions and Europa League competitions, as participation in the European cups is determined by the sporting results obtained at the end of an entire season.
In this context it must be considered what the closure of the stadiums and the definitive stop of the championship could mean from an economic point of view. Teams will have serious problems maintaining an adequate level of liquidity and will probably be forced to make cuts in players‘ compensation (something that some Serie A teams have already started to do). The problems will be exacerbated if PayTv that have acquired the rights to broadcast the matches should face the impossibility of continuing their activities, in the light of a significant number of users who have signed subscription contracts for watching matches on demand.

Other European Championships
Some European championships have already been declared closed and in particular the Ligue 1 (France), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Jupiler Pro League (Belgium) and Scottish Premiership (Scotland).
As far as other nations are concerned, in Germany the Bundesliga resumed on 16 May, behind closed doors. The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) set a maximum limit of 300 people inside the sports facilities and gave teams the opportunity to play a match in another stadium with short notice for legal, organisational and/or security reasons, taking into account that the Coronavirus emergency could take more relevant dimensions in certain areas or regions. In addition, DFL is also considering providing practical help to clubs by ensuring their liquidity.
The English Premiere League is considering restarting from June 12, again behind closed doors and on a neutral pitch, while training in small groups restarted on May 21. Stadiums away from urban areas will be chosen upon request of the police.
Training resumed on May 18th also for the Spanish Liga, but only in groups of 10, with the purpose to start playing again after June 20th. The days of the matches remain to be discussed (the proposal is to play every day of the week) and the times, considering the extremely high temperatures in the summer months, it is also proposed to play at 11pm in some areas.
Finally, in Portugal, the Primeira Liga will restart on May 30, with matches behind closed doors, players and arbiters will be tested the same day of the match. The Portuguese Serie B, however, will not start again.

Covid-19 is certainly a serious emergency, which can neither be minimized nor neglected. However, after an initial phase of understandable surprise and confusion, it now seems necessary to strive for a return to normality when the analysis of the available data, the resources available, and other interests involved suggest a thoughtful balance. Stopping everything clearly diminishes or eliminates contagions. But what is the economic, social, and psychological price? Is it truly impossible to find a system that allows activities to continue, obviously, with the acceptance of a certain level of risk? After all, this is what society normally does in relation to all risks associated with any activities, since none of them is free of risks. Driving a car carries a certain margin of accident risk, even fatal. Cars or driving have not been banned for this reason. Therefore, it is hoped that the same considerations will apply to the COVID-19 emergency and that there will be a restart of the Serie A Championship by June 2020, managed with the appropriate precautions, so that all players and staff members can resume their work, as calmly as possible, and respecting the prescriptions aimed at preventing further contagions.
Besides, as the renowned coach of the national team, Arrigo Sacchi, said, for many people football is the most important thing among the non-important things.

Margherita Stucchi