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Coronavirus: Italy, Spain give green light for training while debates continue elsewhere

The future of the game at stake, perhaps not just in the short-term

Coronavirus - Cologne Photo by Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images

If everything goes well, teams in both the Serie A and La Liga will be returning to some form of training this coming week. And while that’s not a guarantee that they will play out the remainder of the 2019-20 season, it is certainly a step towards a future return to some level of normalcy.

In Italy, the government have given the go ahead for training grounds to reopen. While initially they’re allowing only individual training — no groups, as clarified by sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora — full training could be approved by mid-May. That said, the fate of the season remains unclear. All 20 clubs voted in favor of completing it, even if they have to do so in September, but the government could reportedly pull the plug as soon as this coming Wednesday.

The situation is similar in Spain, where teams like Atlético Madrid are set to resume (individual) training later this week — though only after testing everybody involved. Testing, as in Germany, is a key enabler in Spain and Italy as well, with both countries taking advantage of the large stockpiles of resources they’ve accumulated after being the two hardest hit areas of Europe by COVID-19 a couple months ago.

While the positive developments in Germany, Italy, and Spain are certainly not without criticism and none of the three have permission to actually start playing again, the situation in England remains firmly in the realm of heated debate.

No one said that finding the right balance of financial, sporting, societal, and healthcare concerns will be easy, though the Premier League still managed to make a right old mess of the PR game. Regardless of what happens now and how it happens, the optics of the situation are probably tainted beyond repair.

Still, the game will go ahead — at neutral venues (sorry, Brighton), tournament-style, with concerned players, and a moral outrage — though how soon that happens is still a huge unknown.

But any arguments about the competition’s “integrity” are non-starters (that went out the window in March, and will not return for the foreseeable future — months, if not years?), and any arguments from a “morality” angle will be defeated by the harsh reality of the hundreds of millions, not to mention the actual livelihood of many clubs, at stake.

The future is imperfect, be that for football or the rest of society. Normal is no longer possible. Making the best of the new normal will require concessions from all involved.