We are in February of 2020. The virus is starting to emerge quicker than everyone originally expected. Clothing stores, restaurants, and malls are all closing and hospitals are dedicating all of their floors to Covid patients. In a time when people need something to do while isolated in their homes, watching sports has helped many people pass time. For the majority of the world, the most influential sport is soccer or fútbol.
At first, everything was shut down. There were no games, no practices, nothing to look forward to. Soccer teams were going on zoom for practices, trying to figure out what the next step was. Eventually, they would get back to their training facilities with heavy regulations involving masks and temperature checks. Many leagues postponed their seasons and tournaments, such as the Champions League, where the best teams in Europe compete for European glory.
After a long and boring time, the seasons continued. Unfortunately, only the players and staff of the teams were allowed to attend the games. Stadiums that have capacities of tens of thousands of people were completely empty except for the two benches and the field. In failed attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a real game, many TV broadcasting stations of the matches put fake fan noise into their live stream. Although thoughtful, the move proved more comical than helpful.
Fans are a massive part of any sport. They can instill team or player confidence and energy or drain it. The fans are an essential part of soccer. When Chelsea F.C. won the Champions League for the second time in their history, no one was there to celebrate with them. In a normal year, after winning the game, the players would lead chants with the crowd and there would be endless celebration inside the stadium and outside as the fans would walk out. Having no fans makes a player feel alone.
On July 19, 2021, one of the most popular leagues, the Premier League, in England, started to allow stadiums to seat fans at full capacity; the moment everyone had been waiting for had finally arrived. Restless fans packed stadiums waiting to celebrate their team’s first goal with other fans, or what some would call, family. This reopening happened at the perfect time; the Euros and the Copa America were about to start. These two tournaments showcase the best teams in both Europe and South America. Watching it on TV was much more exciting than when there were “virtual fans.”
It looked like smooth sailing until the Omicron variant appeared. Everyone thought it wouldn’t be a massive disruption, but it proved to be all that and more. As we all know, this variant spread extremely quickly. The European leagues took different approaches to manage this reduction of players. The Premier League created a system where teams could appeal to have their matches postponed due to an increase in Omicron positive players. This allowed for a lot of leeway, and teams took advantage of it.
The floodgates of appeals began. Teams were appealing to the league when they had too many injured players or too many games, and so on. In short, teams exploited the system. People questioned why leagues should allow teams to cancel matches when a massive part of a soccer team remained healthy. Why should younger players not get a chance to play and show their talent when the senior players could not do so?
The Bundesliga, the top German league, agreed with these points. They did not allow teams to postpone their games just because they lacked their star players. The league believed strongly in youth development, and this was the perfect opportunity to promote it. In this ongoing season, leagues have tried to get things back to “normal,” but they would do well to remember that canceling and postponing games yields unwelcome consequences.