Objectives To evaluate the restart of the German Bundesliga (football (soccer)) during the COVID-19 pandemic from a medical perspective.
Methods Participants were male professional football players from the two highest German leagues and the officials working closely with them. Our report covers nine match days spread over 9 weeks (May to July 2020). Daily symptom monitoring, PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 RNA twice weekly, and antibody tests (on two occasions—early during the phase in May 2020 and in the week of the last match) were conducted. Target variables were: (1) onset of typical COVID-19 symptoms, (2) positive PCR results, and (3) IgG seroconversion against SARS-CoV-2. All detected seroconversions were controlled by neutralisation tests.
Findings Suspicious symptoms were reported for one player; an immediate additional PCR test as well as all subsequent diagnostic and antibody tests proved negative for coronavirus. Of 1702 regularly tested individuals (1079 players, 623 officials members), 8 players and 4 officials tested positive during one of the first rounds of PCR testing prior to the onset of team training, 2 players during the third round. No further positive results occurred during the remainder of the season. 694 players and 291 officials provided two serum samples for antibody testing. Nine players converted from negative/borderline to positive (without symptoms); two players who initially tested positive tested negative at the end of the season. 22 players remained seropositive throughout the season. None of the seroconversions was confirmed in the neutralisation test.
Conclusion Professional football training and matches can be carried out safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires strict hygiene measures including regular PCR testing.
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Contributors Each author contributed sufficiently to the manuscript to justify authorship. TM, WK and BG were members of the group who designed the hygiene concept. DM, KD and OH were concerned with laboratory determinations in the Bioscientia Laboratory Ingelheim. DvL, JK and AR are working for the virology lab in Innsbruck which conducted the neutralisation tests. All of us were involved in the conceptualisation of the study and writing and proofreading of the manuscript.
Funding The study was funded by the DFL (Deutsche Fußball Liga).
Competing interests Authors who were members of the task force received a fee for their work in the task force (TM, WK, BG). DM, KD, and OH are employees of Bioscientia Labor Ingelheim, which performed antibody testing and part of the PCR-testing reported in this study.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination of the plans of this research.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Ethics approval Ethical approval was obtained from the local ethics committee (Registration 2020–15023_2 Landesärztekammer Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany).
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data availability statement No data are available. All original data obtained from the players are fully confidential.