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Coronavirus: Hungary first to set official date to restart 2019-20 football season, here’s how they will play

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NB1 to resume on May 30, MLSZ Cup a week prior

HUNGARY-HEALTH-VIRUS-PUSKAS-ARENA Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

As announced by the Hungarian Football Federation on Monday, the Hungarian top flight, the NB1, will resume with a full round of matches on May 30, while the MLSZ Cup will actually resume the week prior with the first of two semifinals.

This makes them the first league in Europe to have an official restart date during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Some reports expect a similar decision in Germany tomorrow as well, perhaps for an even earlier start date.)

Hungary are moving into what they’re calling “the second phase”, and have started relaxing some of the wider lockdown measures throughout the country as well, especially in rural areas. Overall, they have a counted a little over 3000 confirmed cases so far, with 363 dead in a total population of under 10 million.

Like most of Europe, Hungarian football has been on hiatus since March, and while both the men’s and women’s top divisions will resume, the second division, youth football, and grassroots football have been canceled for the season. The top two teams from the second division will be promoted as usual, while the bottom two will go down to the third tier.

As we’ve seen in Germany and starting to see in England, teams are expected to follow strict guidelines regarding social distances and isolation.

Matches will be held behind closed doors and televised as usual, though not at neutral venues. On matchdays, the teams will create two “zones” in the stadium, with players and all other essential personnel effectively isolated from other people in the stadium (media, administrators, and the like). All essential personnel will be tested 24-36 hours before each match, with matches expected to be held every three days or so to finish the season by July 12 at the latest.

During the build-up phase to the restart of the season (effectively pre-season training), which begins today, all players and personnel will have to pass an initial three-part screen (PCR, antibody, and general health), then twice weekly testing. Any positive test will mean an automatic 14-day quarantine for the subject (two negative tests and 48 hours symptom-free at the end of 14 days clears the player for return). This is essentially the coronavirus-as-injury model, which is probably the only realistic solution.

One other big difference will be the use of 5 substitutions and mandatory water breaks as the temperatures heat up. While the number of substitutions is increased, a team will only be allowed to stop the game three times to make them (not counting half-time).

As we’re seeing in Germany, guidelines are only as good the adherence to and the enforcement of them.

Good luck to the bold pioneers!