MIAMI, Fla. (1 May 2020) —Spain’s footballers will undergo daily coronavirus tests under a protocol for a return to training La Liga hopes to set in motion from the second week of May.
The protocol for a return to training will be carried out in three stages – individual, small group and full team. From the second stage, squads will be obliged to live together in isolation, away from their families. A match-day protocol, first drafted in March, is being updated, with the league’s president, Javier Tebas, warning clubs that fans are unlikely to be able to attend games until after Christmas.
An eight-hour meeting Tebas had with the Spanish federation president, Luis Rubiales, and the secretary of state for sport, Irene Lozano, last week ended with what the minister described as “a commitment to restart training with a view to completing the season”.
Of course, the executives acknowledge that any return requires approval from health authorities. While supporters groups are unhappy at a return behind closed doors as well as the fact that at present there are no proposals to compensate them, it is conceded that it will be impossible to restart with supporters.
The league’s three scenarios for a return to competition, in line with UEFA and Europe’s major leagues, plan for a restart on 28 May, 6 June or 28 June. Tebas has spoken openly about not wanting the remainder of the 2019/20 season to be cancelled, claiming the loss ro LaLiga would be around €1billion ($1.09 billion / £870 m).
The protocol calls for clubs to be given a month of training where possible, with two weeks of group and full-team sessions following two weeks of individual training. Some clubs are concerned about the plausibility of that plan and returning to competition without sufficient training. That process begins with a four-part protocol written by doctors from three first division clubs and reviewed by medical departments at a further four clubs across the top two divisions. The protocol was distributed to every La Liga side and discussions with medical staff began on Wednesday. It has been shared with other European leagues.
The preliminary stage (phase one) of the protocol for the resumption of training involves at least three tests being carried out on every player before a return to activity, beginning with polymerase chain reaction and serology tests. The league hoped to carry out a first round of tests around the end of April to gain a picture of where they are and establish which players have built up an immunity to the virus. The final test of the first phase must be conducted two days before a return to activity.
Once sessions begin, up to two weeks after that first test, players will be subjected to daily serology antibody tests which the league has acquired. Any player found to be positive will be isolated.
Phase two is individual training sessions to be carried out at the clubs’ training grounds in a controlled environment that has to be disinfected before sessions. “Clean area” notices will be placed at entry points, the number of staff allowed in will be limited and training times staggered to prevent players coinciding with each other. Strict rules are laid out for the preparation of food – only one cook will be allowed – for laundry staff and for security. Employees will be categorised as high or low protection, with footballers in the former group.
Players will arrive at training always in the same car and in kit, taking away the following day’s kit in a sealed, biodegradable bag. Dressing rooms are not to be used and there will be a maximum of six players on any pitchand no more than 12 on site. No more than two players will be allowed in the gym and no interaction with coaching staff will be allowed. Staff must wear gloves and face masks, as must players until on the pitch.
From phase three, squads will be in isolation at the training ground, residency or a closed hotel space occupied only by the team. They will not be allowed home and will be in individual rooms. There will be no communal areas. This is the aspect of the protocol that has been criticised by some players.
Sessions will be conducted in three eight-player groups with no more than 20 staff on site. Those groups will be split across three dressing rooms, ensuring no more than three players are together. After sessions, they will return to their rooms.
Multiple dressing rooms, disinfected after every use, will also be used for the phase four, the final stage. At that point, teams will be able to train together for the first time with a view to a return to competition. In an ideal scenario the whole process will take a month, although there is a recognition of the fluidity of the situation. Details of match-day protocol are yet to be finalised but will stipulate that games are behind closed doors and, following the intervention of the federation and players’ union, not closer than 72 hours apart.