Detailed Coronavirus Plans for Champions League Safety are Immediately Tested


Those closing couple of minutes, simply earlier than kickoff, have been mapped out with virtually army precision. At precisely eight:50 p.m. native time, a disinfected Champions League match ball will likely be positioned on a ceremonial plinth. At eight:53 p.m., the gamers will go away their locker rooms. The groups will enter the sphere, individually, not more than two and a half minutes later.

At eight:57 p.m., because the strains of the Champions League anthem blare out of the stadium’s audio system, the gamers will face the stands — all however empty — whereas sustaining social distancing: a meter between every participant. Team photographs are at eight:57 p.m. and 50 seconds however the photojournalists wouldn’t have lengthy to take them: the coin toss is at eight:58.

And then, at 9 p.m. native time on Wednesday, European soccer will enter uncharted territory. After months of planning, weeks of uncertainty, hours of conferences and a whole lot upon a whole lot of pages of protocols and directions, the strangest, most intense Champions League in historical past will lastly start its (belated) push to the ultimate.

Rather than offering a slow-burn climax to the European season, with the ultimate three rounds of video games held over virtually two months and staged throughout the continent, the Champions League, probably the most coveted prize in membership soccer, will likely be settled in solely 10 days and in a single metropolis: Lisbon.

If, that’s, the coronavirus permits it. Already one workforce is going through a attainable outbreak: Atlético Madrid reported Sunday that two members of its touring celebration had examined constructive.

The teams from England, Italy and Spain, meanwhile, might complain of a lack of rest. The Serie A season only finished on the first weekend of August, after a grueling schedule of 10 games in little more than six weeks. The Premier League campaign ended in the last week of July.

And then, of course, there are the myriad demands being placed on the teams to ensure the tournament can play to a finish. “I have a feeling that whichever team handles all of these fears and responsibilities the best has a big chance to win,” Kahn said.

Those requirements touch almost every aspect of each team’s preparation. Last week, representatives of all 12 clubs still involved in the competition at that stage joined an online call with UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, to go over what the tournament would look like.

They were presented with three sets of slides, amounting to more than 130 pages — as well as being sent the 31-page “Return To Play” protocol governing almost every aspect of their stay in Portugal.

As well as detailing where each team will stay and train in the city, the slides informed them that they would be afforded 210 bottles of water, as well as 90 bottles of Gatorade, every day at their appointed training facility; that they can ask for up to 50 kilograms of ice to be made available during training sessions and games; and that they must supply not only photos but the dimensions of their team buses, if they were planning on providing their own.

They were presented with maps of the stadiums they will use, detailing where, precisely, their players will be allowed to warm up. So-called “fast feet” exercises must take place away from the playing surface, and the area in front of each goal-mouth must not be touched. Players will not be permitted to perform warm downs on the field at all, to protect the turf as much as possible for other matches.

They were walked through the testing schedule for each of their players — one before setting off for Lisbon, one immediately upon arrival, one the day before each game. The results will be returned to them no more than six hours before kickoff — to ensure that the competition does not see an outbreak of the sort that has disrupted several major sports in the United States.

Turkey was convinced it could host such a tournament: the Champions League final had, after all, been scheduled for Istanbul before the pandemic struck. UEFA, though, was skeptical. Turkey was regarded as too much of a risk. Germany, Spain, Hungary and Portugal all volunteered to take its place, and Turkey agreed to step aside, promised next year’s final instead.

At the same time, Portuguese officials made their move. Fernando Gomes and Tiago Craveiro, the president and chief executive of the country’s soccer federation, had developed a close relationship with UEFA’s leadership. They stressed to them that Portugal, at that point, had not been as hard hit as other nations, and that Lisbon had experience hosting major events. The pitch worked.

With a format and a venue, UEFA now had to take care of the organization. In ordinary circumstances, that might take months. It had only a few weeks. A hosting agreement, including tax breaks, was hammered out with the Portuguese government and a detailed health protocol was created. The games, UEFA announced, would take place without fans.

To avoid complaints of favoritism and petty arguments among the teams, hotels were allocated slots in the competition draw, meaning where each team would stay and train would be as much a case of luck of the draw as the opponents it would face.

Then there was the matter of assuaging UEFA’s broadcast partners. Some had already secured clawbacks and rebates from the national leagues, but UEFA managed to strike a deal. Millions of dollars will have to be returned, but just how much will depend on the success of this month’s tournament. The final figure will determine the total prize money teams will receive.

In July, though, all the work suddenly appeared to be under threat. Portugal had an alarming spike in coronavirus cases, centered on Lisbon. The country’s authorities imposed a curfew in the city, and some began asking if Portugal should host the event at all.

UEFA’s leadership, led by its president, Aleksander Ceferin, held a call with senior Portuguese officials, including the prime minister, Antonio Costa. The soccer officials provided a detailed presentation, involving mountains of statistics and graphics, that, they said, showed Portugal’s testing record and handling of the virus meant there was little threat to the tournament.

That final hurdle cleared, UEFA could press on. On Aug. 4, it presented the final version of what its emergency Champions League would look like to the clubs. The focus was on all of the sudden norms of this new world: face masks and hand sanitizing and social distancing.

There will be just one nod to the past. At 8:50 p.m., precisely 10 minutes before kickoff of each match, a match ball will be placed on its plinth. On the ball’s curved surface, just beneath an image of the Champions League trophy, two words will serve as a reminder that this is not how it was supposed to be. “Istanbul 2020,” it will read.



Source link Nytimes.com

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