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International

German Soccer Faces uphill Battle to Convince Public, Fans

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The German politicians have been persuaded to allow soccer to resume in the country despite the coronavirus pandemic. The public, it seems, still needs to be convinced.

Three polls from German broadcasters published Thursday and Friday showed at least half of respondents saying they are against the plan to restart the season.

The top two divisions will resume on May 16 following a two-month suspension, playing in empty stadiums. The decision was made after German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with state governors on Wednesday and gave their approval.

But even German soccer's hardcore fans — whose colorful displays are usually a major part of the league's marketing appeal — have their doubts about playing without fans inside the venues.

"Soccer without fans is nothing," read a joint statement from several Bayern Munich fan groups after the league decided Thursday on a restart date. "Soccer alone in front of the TV at home can be nice, too. But it would surely never have developed into a mass phenomenon."

When the Bundesliga hosted its first game in an empty stadium in March, shortly before the league was suspended, hundreds of Borussia Mönchengladbach fans gathered outside and celebrated a win with the players. Fan groups from various clubs have asked their members not to stage a repeat when games resume.

High-profile German athletes in Olympic sports, too, have raised concerns about special treatment for soccer at a time when they can't compete and some can't train.

When the season was suspended, Bayern held a four-point lead over Borussia Dortmund. Leipzig was a point further behind in third.

"What happened earlier this season doesn't matter any more. Everyone's starting from scratch," Bayern coach Hansi Flick told the dpa news agency. "Games without spectators are something particular. It's all about the mentality."

Bayern players trained in Munich on Friday on a field enclosed by a large curtain before moving into a hotel for a quarantine period — a league requirement — ahead of their first game on May 17 at Union Berlin.

Other clubs are finding creative ways to adapt.

Werder Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt said he is moving training sessions to the stadium as his team prepares to host Bayer Leverkusen on May 18.

"We're training all the time in the same atmosphere that there will be on game day," Kohfeldt said.

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