When football commentator Andreas Kraul reached his usual commentary station at the Parken Stadium before the national league clash FC Copenhagen – Randers FC last week, he was seized with a pure sense of joy:

“It was indescribable to go back to work, a release for all journalists. One step closer to normality.”

On his birthday, Kraul occupied the empty stands to cover one of the first Superligaen matches after the league resumed few weeks ago.

The return of football to Denmark has allowed Kraul and the local media to experience the bitter legacy left by the virus to sports competitions. Between rigid protocols and the surreal atmosphere of closed doors, it is now necessary to quickly adapt to the new reality, because now more than ever, it is important to defend sport and bring people closer together.

QUARANTINE Kraul worked hard during the lockdown, which became effective on March 13 in Denmark. The emergency situation imposed new rhythms and agendas on him, temporarily removing him from his main job as a sports commentator:

“It was very different to work from home, something I had never imagined. I haven’t written articles so frequently in a long time, and I’ve worked a lot with radio.

The chaos provoked by the virus kept the centre stage every day, so I concentrated on analyzing how the global crisis was impacting the sport of my country. From the news on the field, I went to tell the life of the sporting protagonists within their home walls; emotions, training, the desire to return.”

NEW PRESS RULES Superligaen returned to action behind closed doors on May 29, after almost three months of stop. As for the other European championships, very rigid protocols have been drawn up to allow the safe execution of all activities.

Returning to work does not therefore mean returning to normalcy. The working activities have changed a lot with the restart of the championship, and with it the normal matchday routine.

“Press entry takes place 90 minutes before the game. We commentators must go directly to the station, without being able to reach the press room or visit the playing field.

“It is not possible to speak with the teams before the game, to collect the moods and the latest news about the line-up choices. Having to find solutions, I tried to organize phone calls with some coaches and players.

But in essence everything is postponed until the end, where mixed zones have been set up in respect of social distancing.”

MENTAL FACTOR The innovations are therefore innumerable. But if adaptation to health protocols requires only a little time and patience, it is much more difficult to rework the new context from a mental point of view.

“To be a commentator means playing a special role. Every fan associates football with a voice that tells it. This ensures that a moment of profound, almost ritual harmony takes place between the narrator and his invisible audience, which is officiated every weekend,” says Kraul.

“A football commentary is not just reporting on what’s going on on the pitch. That’s the essential product, the information. For me it is essential to be in the middle of a crowded stadium, capable of infusing energy and accompanying your words.

“After my first commentary, I felt all the mental weight of the change. I was alone – at most twenty journalists with me – which is difficult to imagine at the Parken Stadium, the most media-centered in Denmark.

“It is rather complicated to try to maintain the same level when the atmosphere around you is completely canceled, when the goal does not follow the roar of the crowd. We have tried to install an artificial substrate also in our workstations, as it happens for the public from home. Unfortunately, this solution did not produce much and we understood that it is up to us not to lose quality despite the conditions.”

REOPENING TESTS As for the players, it is therefore the surreal atmosphere of the empty system that requires greater concentration. However, the situation in Denmark appears to be looking towards the future. In addition to the positive experiment of the virtual stands, panels set up on the sidelines to allow zoom connections of the fans during the derby between AGF Aarhus and Randers a few weeks ago, the federation has decided to gradually open the stands to the public.

“Some tests were made in the second division and in the semi-finals of Landspokal Cup, respecting the maximum ceiling of 500 spectators.

“I can assure you that even a handful of cheering audiences made a huge difference according to what the players and coaches confessed to me after the game. It was the same for me.”

Danish clubs held talks about the return of crowds to the stadiums in the age of social distancing, with discussions focusing on allowing 25-50 per cent capacity currently in place. Of course, many points remain unsolved or without a shared solution – fans celebrations above all.

“We would really like spectators back at stadiums,” said Claus Thomsen, the chief executive of the Danish Football League, to Danish outlet Ritzau. “By our assessment we are able to do it in line with how it will be handled in theme parks, theaters or cinemas.”

The League is to issue guidelines on how fans can attend matches while keeping a safe distance from others. Thomsen added: “Everything is separate. People won’t come into contact with each other at matches.”

If this convergent vision will be confirmed, Denmark might be among the first countries to allow a substantial return of fans to the stands, paving the way for other leagues in Europe.

Source: Matteo Suanno| AIPS Media