COLUMN: How COVID-19 is Affecting Soccer

COVID-19 has paralyzed the world. Crisis is everywhere, including the infrastructure of world sports. The recent impact of COVID-19 could change sports forever, including one of the most watched sports worldwide: soccer.

Major leagues and championships, such as EuroCup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, South American Champions League, Gold Cup, MLS, Primiera League (Brazil) and the World Cup qualifiers to Qatar 2022, among others, were forced to suspend activities. In view of the viral disease spreading around the world, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Football Association Board (IFAB) had to keep in mind how soccer would be a center of contagion for immense numbers of people if it continued as normal. After consideration, the associations decided to suspend soccer events.

Being a soccer fan, I know that there are more necessary situations such as the pandemic and the economic crisis, but I find it really important to talk about how soccer is being affected, as well. The beginning of the economic crisis in the world of sports began due to COVID-19, and ESPN reported that some clubs would lose millions of dollars due to the coronavirus. Therefore, some have been put on the verge of bankruptcy and closure. In order to proceed with the sport, the soccer matches became “A Puerta Cerrada,” or behind closed doors without an audience, providing a source of income for the clubs and the salary of the players, employees and technical personnel.

Furthermore, FIFA and IFAB affirmed new changes in the game’s rules. For one, a team may have up to five substitutions, three of which are normally made during playing time, and the other two must be made during half time of the game. Another change allows for a “Cooling Break” that occurs 30 minutes into the first and second half of the game, due to physical fatigue, the isolation of the players and the lack of training.

The return of soccer behind closed doors has not only been disappointing, but also has affected many players’ performance without the emotion of an audience to drive them. Stars, such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Neymar Jr. showed their performance quality dropping in their matches. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, others have improved their physical condition as professional soccer players.

The social isolation has not only affected their physical condition, but also their future. Since COVID-19 forced the shutdown of stadiums’ and clubs’ activities, many of the players are not renewing their contracts with their current club. Ultimately, all of this has caused the delay of the championships and the 2020 World Cup qualifiers heading to Qatar.

Andrea Agnelli, president of European Clubs, mentioned that “The crisis will be deep. The clubs have to work together to strengthen a common position until it reaches normalcy.”

Many hope that soccer will return to normality, but the reality is that soccer will conform to the new FIFA standard. The situation is in the hands of the experts to handle the crisis on and off the soccer field. As a soccer fan, I express my happiness that most of the big leagues have started their matches this month.