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How German soccer is navigating the tricky questions facing sports leagues

The eyes of the sports world will be focused on Germany this weekend.

The country's top professional soccer league, the Bundesliga, will become the first major European sport to resume play this Saturday, albeit without stands full of singing spectators. The reopening is bound to be a test case for leagues around the world that have been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Teams will travel between away matches by bus and no more than 322 people — including players, coaches, referees, and other support workers — will be allowed inside stadiums. Detailed guidelines will limit contact before, during, and after matches. Coaches will wear masks on the sidelines and even balls will be disinfected during matches. Police will also make sure fans don't congregate outside, and the league says the home team will forfeit the match if they do.

Players have been training under strict social distancing guidelines for a few weeks, but that hasn't completely shut out the disease. The league tested nearly 2,000 individuals prior to government approval, turning up 10 positive results. The entire Dynamo Dresden team was quarantined and will be temporarily excluded from competition after two players tested positive.

An earlier incident also showed how tedious the situation can be. Hertha Berlin's Salomon Kalou was suspended after he posted a video to Facebook showing him shaking hands with teammates and interrupting the medical test of another.

Economic considerations were a massive factor in the decision to resume play. The Bundesliga's CEO, Christian Seifert, told The New York Times in April that canceling the season outright would cost almost $1 billion and put at least one out of every three clubs in financial crisis. Another problem is that a team's finishing place determines which competitions it qualifies for in the following season, with huge financial stakes. Abandoning an unfinished season would pose thorny questions about how to award spots for the next year. The Dutch Eredivisie, which canceled the remainder of its season and effectively nullified the results, is already facing a legal challenge from lower division teams which were in position to gain promotion before cancellation.

Some fans, meanwhile, are opposed to the idea of playing "ghost games" behind closed doors, which in their view proves that television money is prized over community involvement. League officials have been careful to acknowledge that many see it as inappropriate for sports to be given special exceptions while other aspects of social and economic activity remain limited. "It's a great responsibility for the clubs to implement the medical and organizational guidelines in a disciplined manner," Seifert told reporters. "Every matchday is a chance to prove that we deserve the next matchday."

The league will conduct more than 20,000 tests to monitor players and staff by the end of the season, hoped to be completed before the end of June.