Turkish Football Federation (TFF) last Friday published their advisory protocol “Return to Football,” a 35-page guideline for the possible return of the game. The protocol sets three stages before the first whistle; individual training away from club facilities, individual or small group training at club facilities and finally regular training as a team.
The protocol proposes 240 different rules to administer the transition process, which is an astonishing number dealing with almost each and every detail. Ranging from the design of the changing rooms, cleaning of the kits to tests before and after games, there is literally every detail you are looking for. From sanitization to social distancing, it is a gargantuan task, aiming to be the solution global football needs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, there is a very tiny, little problem that apparently slipped under the radar: How are we going to prevent 22 players from jumping on each other on the pitch? You know, football is, after all, a contact sport that requires players to break every social distancing rules. Even though I checked the entire 240 rules three times, I did not see any regulation for the prevention of physical contact in the game. It may not be a huge problem – as Kasımpaşa player Aytaç Kara points out – if players see the ball as a ticking time bomb and run away. Nevertheless, if the plan is to return to football as we know it, then it is no different then going downhill without brakes.
Apart from this obvious issue, there is also the incredible complexity of implementation. Does TFF really expect each and every club member to memorize these rules and act accordingly? As you know, structural changes are not enough to hide from the virus, situational awareness and actively avoiding dangerous encounters are also crucial.
As TFF lays out, there are 240 different possibilities of infection and all of them are present in a packed and small facility. Even though somehow the danger of physical contact on the pitch is nullified, which is near impossible, the application of these rules will be extremely prone to errors.
Thirdly, these regulations are clearly designed for the Süper Lig and its survival. There is simply no chance that a lower division team, which cannot even pay their employee wages regularly, to follow this guideline. Even the cost of cleaning products required to disinfect the facilities, materials, kits and players would mean a huge burden on these teams. Some of the instructions, like dividing the changing rooms, are not even applicable to these teams as their facilities satisfy the bare minimum. As the protocol is titled “Return to Football,” rather than “Return to Süper Lig,” it is the TFF’s responsibility to offer a feasible plan to the lower-division teams.
The whole protocol is, unfortunately, an unrealistic project which is set to fail right from the very beginning. The obvious problem of physical contact on the pitch and the problems of implementation renders this protocol inapplicable, in my opinion. Gladly I am not the only one this time, most of the media is critical of it as well. It is best for the TFF to either revise or completely change their perception before it is too late. The question should be no longer how to save football but how to rebuild it. The sooner we understand this the better.