Madrid – The Spanish soccer season, halted like most major sporting competitions due to the coronavirus pandemic, is unlikely to return until the summer, the country's health minister Salvador Illa said on Sunday.
Spanish league president Javier Tebas has been bullish about the need to complete the campaign in order to avoid collective losses of up to €1 billion ($1.08 billion) and has given three potential restart dates: May 29, June 7 or June 28.
The league has produced a protocol with strict guidelines for clubs to follow when training resumes while Spain's sports ministry has also created a plan for a return to action in closed stadiums to boost the local economy.
But in Sunday's daily coronavirus briefing, Illa was careful not to set any date for a return.
"I cannot say now if professional football will be able to restart before the summer, it would be imprudent of me," he told a news conference.
The health minister added that La Liga's plans to provide daily COVID-19 tests for players, which have been criticized by the Spanish players' association for diverting resources from groups with greater need, requires government approval.
"There is an order from the health ministry which is in place for all types of groups, including professional football," he said. "They have to put whatever type of diagnostic tests they have at the disposition of the regional governments."
Over 23,000 people in Spain have died from the coronavirus but on Sunday the country posted its lowest daily death toll in over a month as children were allowed out to exercise in a relaxation of one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
But Illa urged citizens to remain cautious and realistic about the immediate future.
"We are going to see how things evolve before we decide how different professions will resume activities," he said.
"Things will not be like they were before. Until we get a vaccine we're going to have to learn to live with this virus which I insist is dangerous and we cannot afford to show it a lack of respect."
That respect will extend to equipment, with a leading doctor in the sport calling for balls and pitches to be sterilized frequently once soccer returns to Spain in order to minimize the chance of infections.
Rafa Ramos, president of the Spanish Association of Football Teams Physicians, has outlined what conditions will be like when matches, which are set to be played in closed stadiums with no spectators, return.
"All the material, even the pitches, will have to be sterilized before a match, at halftime and afterward," Ramos told Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday.
"It's possible to be infected by an unknown ball but when you are struck by a sterilized ball on a sterilized surface it's very hard to get infected."
Ramos also said medical staff were concerned about a rise in injuries when the season resumes as players have been forced to train at home due to the conditions of Spain's strict lockdown.
"We aren't just worried about the virus. The players will have had eight weeks without competing, cooped up in their homes and not all of them have big houses where they can do fitness training," he added.
"We don't know how long they'll take to recover without seeing an increase in injuries, so we'll have to extend the period as long as is necessary to ensure the risks are minimal."
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