Will Soccer Ever Be The Same?
The year 2020 has so far seen unprecedented changes in all realms, and soccer is no exception. The pandemic forced professional and amateur leagues alike to embark on an unforeseen break; players and soccer enthusiasts were left wondering how long it would take for the return of their favorite sport.
May 16th, 2020 marked the much-anticipated return of soccer. The world was without the beautiful game for a couple of months, but on this day, the ban on soccer was starting to lift with the resumption of the Bundesliga. Since, other major leagues around the world, including Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A, have resumed, too. Amateur leagues are still looking forward to a safe restart date.
The return of soccer is a huge mood lifter and an amazing distraction for fans, but FIFA’s decision to bring soccer back comes with much needed changes. Let’s examine some of these.
Social Distancing on the Soccer Pitch:
One of the biggest questions is how can we bring back a high contact sport in a world where social distancing is still a necessity?
Upon resumption of soccer, players were urged to avoid unnecessary contact with others. Players on the bench no longer sit close to one another. Some wonder if this is necessary since all players are periodically tested before being allowed to take part in a match; while others wonder if this is enough to keep everyone safe.
Players are supposed to respect social distancing also when celebrating a goal, but the joy that accompanies scoring a goal seems to be more powerful than the fear of the virus. It remains to be seen whether this will be more strictly enforced.
Likewise, we are left to wonder if amateur leagues will follow social distancing recommendations, or if the emotions of the game will prevail.
Soccer Matches without an Audience:
Before the pandemic started, no one could ever imagine professional soccer matches being played behind closed doors, in almost empty stadiums. Non-human materials are now used in professional leagues to play the roles of soccer fans to inject emotion into the atmosphere. For TV spectators, it seems to work somewhat, and the games still transmit excitement, but clearly, soccer is not the same without fans, and we are left to wonder how long it will take for this unprecedented change to be reversed.
Five Substitutions per Game:
This temporary substitution rule change aims to protect the fitness of players. Having been out for several months, it is expected that there will be more cases of injuries and fatigue, not to mention matches are now being played in the middle of the hot summer months. Players, therefore, need to be given enough rest during matches, most of which will be played within short intervals. There is no doubt that this change will help many players avoid incessant injuries, but it can lead to excessive substitutions to waste time, so it will be interesting to see how this rule will evolve with time.
Single-leg Knockout Matches in the Champions League:
As opposed to the usual two-leg matches in the Champions Leagues knockout stages, this year’s edition will be different. All knockout matches will be played on a neutral ground, and will have a single leg. The implication of this is that the rule of the away goal is suspended until further notice, and this will certainly bring a greater sense of urgency and intensity to these matches, which should make even more fun to watch.
Will Soccer Ever Be The Same?
These are just four major changes we have seen so far, but it remains to be seen how much soccer will need to further change to adapt to this pandemic, and also it remains to be seen what will happen to these changes post-pandemic. Will soccer ever be the same?
More changes might be needed to ensure safety, and the rules may need to be more strictly enforced. When it comes to amateur soccer, the contrast of opinions will be an interesting determinant of how the games will look and feel. Can the game adapt drastically to highly minimize contact and ensure safety for all, or will those more concerned about safety measures need to wait longer before they are able to return to the field? Only time will tell.
Another issue the pandemic has brought is the economic concern about smaller clubs and leagues being able to survive the financial effects of this pause. We have already seen multiple clubs, leagues, and organizations fold. We may find a very different landscape once this is all over.
An Optimistic Note
Like everything in life, this crisis will also bring what some might call positive changes. Below are some positive changes the UNOZERO team hopes will result from all of this madness:
- People will discover new leagues, as the return of soccer leagues has been staggered.
- We will have a greater appreciation for the game.
- People will gain greater respect and appreciation for teammates, rivals, other clubs, leagues, and will surely translate into a greater sense of community, a global soccer community.
The Beautiful Game will slowly, but surely, try to regain its pre-pandemic shape. It may take some time, but together we will get there.