Eliteserien targets June 16 season start
Strict protocols in place; women to start later
SJUR NATVIG, STIAN GRYTHAUGEN & KRISTIAN SKÅRDALSMO
On May 7, the Norwegian government approved the start of Eliteserien soccer games with a target start of June 16, provided the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF) protocols are followed in relation to COVID-19 regulations. Organized contact training was able to start immediately. The NFF proposal was also approved by the health authorities.
“Organized training in elite soccer with contact can begin from now on,” said Minister of Culture and Gender Equality Abid Raja (V) at the May 7 press conference.
In the NFF, the decision was received with pleasure.
“It was no big surprise, but we were not informed in advance about what was decided,” said General Secretary Pål Bjerketvedt to NTB. “It was a relief and a good message to get.”
He added that the “ready” signal was expected. Clear signals have emerged that other areas of society were “being carefully opened.”
“We are extremely pleased to be able to start training in top soccer, and from June 16 with matches,” said NFF Elite Director Lise Klaveness to fotball.no after the announcement. “The dialogue with the authorities has been good and constructive. It has been invaluable to meet competent and accommodating people at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and to engage with the health authorities to develop sound infection control around our activity.
“The protocols we have to follow are demanding. To succeed in this requires close dialogue with the various clubs. This has not been done before, so we need to be easy-going in evaluating and adjusting along the way.”
Compliance with the protocol for infection protection is a prerequisite for the authorities’ ready signal for training and matches. Games—for the time being—will be without spectators.
Raja said at the press conference that soccer “will most likely run all the elite series matches this season without the public.”
“We have used this in the work we have done,” said Bjerketvedt. “It is based on the fact that the matches go without the audience, at least for a period after startup.”
While there is cheering for the resumption, NFF is proceeding with caution about the June 16 start date.
“Whether we can start the elite series that day remains to be seen,” said Bjerketvedt to NTB. “We have to work out schedule and season schedules together with the clubs and Norsk Toppfotball. It will be an overall assessment of how the season should be conducted. We will try to start as close to that date as possible, and preferably on the date if practically possible.”
Seven games have been missed through May 10. The goal is to still complete the schedule by the end of the year.
During the press conference, Raja was asked by NTB whether there were doubts about restarting soccer.
“The important thing is that we are able to maintain the infection control rules,” he said. “Norsk Toppfotball itself, with the NFF, has created a fairly strict regimen that reduces the risk of infection. The players will be quarantined and not have contact with the outside world. As long as it is done within the rules, it is justifiable to open. There will be ongoing dialogue. If there is a need to update the protocol, it will be done in consultation with my ministry and with the help of the Institute of Public Health and the Directorate of Health.”
Initially, it is the Elite series for men that can look forward to the start.
The NFF has always said that any permission to start training and game activity should also include the top series for women. Raja made it clear that the government’s decision applies to both genders, as long as the protocol is followed. Several of the points in the protocol will be far more difficult to comply with for the teams in the Women’s Top Series.
For now, the women must wait.
“We are considering whether it is appropriate to divide the pilot into several phases, where the Elite series is first out, and where the Top Series women and First Division men will follow four weeks later,” said Klaveness on NFF’s website. “We must now consider whether the infection protection protocols as they are proposed should be adjusted in any way in light of what emerged during today’s press conference. We need to come back to the specific phasing in of training in top football.”
“It is an invitation to NFF to create a regime around the Top Series, so that they can also start their season,” said Raja. “But it is a ball that the sport has to deal with. We will accept an application for this if it comes, and then we will deal with it as quickly as possible.”
This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.