On this file picture taken on Might 7, 2019, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors gamers have a good time scoring a aim throughout the AFC Champions League group stage soccer match between China’s Beijing Guoan and South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in Beijing. STR / AFP
South Korea’s soccer season kicks off on Friday after a two-month coronavirus delay, main the best way for the worldwide sport as different leagues try to return to motion.
Objective celebrations, handshakes and even speaking are out beneath stringent new security pointers designed to forestall any contagion throughout video games, which will likely be performed behind closed doorways.
Whereas nations equivalent to Belarus, Turkmenistan and Taiwan defied the virus to maintain taking part in soccer, South Korea — the 2002 World Cup co-hosts and semi-finalists — are the primary distinguished nation within the sport to permit matches.
South Korea endured one of many worst early outbreaks of COVID-19 exterior China, prompting skilled sports activities to droop or delay their seasons, a sample that was repeated worldwide.
However the nation seems to have flattened the curve thanks to an intensive “trace, test and treat” programme, and soccer’s return comes after baseball began with out followers on Tuesday.
The Okay-League is Asia’s first main competitors to return to motion, whereas Europe’s giants stay sidelined with solely Germany’s Bundesliga to date making concrete plans to renew.
Friday’s opening sport will likely be between defending champions Jeonbuk Motors — who’re managed by Jose Mourinho’s former assistant Jose Morais — and Cup-holders Suwon Bluewings.
Jeonbuk have been the dominant crew for the previous decade, profitable 5 of the final six league titles, and are once more one of many favourites.
One other prime contender among the many Okay-League’s 12 groups are Ulsan, who’ve completed within the prime 4 in every of the previous 4 years.
However it will likely be soccer with a distinction from Friday, with strict well being checks and hygiene measures enforced on the sphere.
Gamers and training workers are topic to temperature checks forward of every sport and if anybody will get contaminated throughout the season, the affected crew and people who performed towards them must take a two-week break.
As an alternative of the normal pre-game handshakes, gamers have been requested to bow their heads from a distance, whereas additionally avoiding celebrating targets with teammates — and speaking.
‘Impossible not to talk’
The Okay-League’s step-by-step response handbook to the virus outbreak has been shared with some 40 skilled soccer competitions worldwide together with England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga, the Okay-League mentioned.
However questions have been raised concerning the new security pointers.
“It’s impossible not to talk to your teammates,” Incheon United captain Kim Do-hyeok advised reporters.
“If we can’t have conversations on the field, we may as well not play football at all.”
The brand new Okay-League season will likely be an oasis of stay motion in a world the place sports activities followers have been starved of such content material by the virus, with broadcasters resorting to repeats of matches from previous years.
The shortage of stay sport has resulted in a new-found international curiosity in South Korean soccer.
Ten international broadcasters from China, Hong Kong to Croatia have bought rights to air the upcoming season, whereas these in Germany, France, Italy, US and Australia have additionally made inquiries, the Okay-League mentioned.
The Okay-League will livestream Friday’s match on YouTube and Twitter with English-language graphics and commentary for worldwide followers, it added in a press release.
On the bottom, the Okay-League mentioned spectators will likely be allowed again into stadiums progressively as the federal government eases its quarantining measures.
The brand new soccer season comes simply two days after the return baseball in South Korea, which has struck a tv cope with ESPN for US followers.
And South Korea will subsequent week change into the primary nation to see ladies’s skilled golf resume after COVID-19.
South Korean gamers dominate ladies’s golf with eight that includes on the planet’s prime 20, together with primary Ko Jin-young.
The $1.eight million Korea Women Skilled Golf Affiliation Championship begins on Might 14 in Yangju, east of Seoul with world quantity six Kim Sei-young and 10th-ranked Lee Jeong-eun within the 144-strong discipline.
South Korea has seen solely a trickle of latest coronavirus infections in latest days, with two contemporary instances reported on Wednesday — each of them abroad arrivals — taking the entire to 10,806.