A couple days after the Chicago Fire’s 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution, a reporter asked Revs coach Bruce Arena about the possibility of playing games in empty stadiums.
“We played in one on Saturday, so we’re used to it,” the prickly Arena joked. For the record, the announced attendance in Foxborough, Mass. that day was just over 15,000.
A month later, we’re all waiting for sports—and life— to return to normal. Here in Chicago, there’s no sign of it—yet. But in Germany, where the coronavirus pandemic was taken more seriously earlier on, Bundesliga teams returned to practice today. The players still had to maintain a safe distance from one another, but players could still run, shoot, pass, and even talk to one another, as long as it was done safely.
️ @Manuel_Neuer: "A very unusual feeling!"#FCBayern complete first small-group training session.— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) April 6, 2020
If Germany’s positive trend continues, it leaves open the possibility of Bundesliga matches being played without fans. The German League CEO recently said when matches resume, they could be played without fans for the remainder of 2020. But, is that a good idea? Do we really want sports without fans in the stadium?
It’s a tough call. But, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t completely dismiss the idea at a news conference today at Soldier Field.
“I think we’re not at that point yet, but I know that the various sports leagues are talking about a variety of different options, depending on how long the public health personnel believe that we need to be reducing the size of crowds,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot was standing in an empty Soldier Field to launch the “We are Not Playing” campaign, where athletes from the Fire, Red Stars, Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Sky are helping to educate the public about the COVID-19 crisis, why we all need to do our best to stay at home, and why keeping a safe social distance matters.
“On March 21, we were supposed to be celebrating the home opener of the Chicago Fire,” Lightfoot said. “This has had a profound effect on who we are as a people. We are a great sports town.”
Mayor Lightfoot is right. Chicago is a great sports town by nearly any measure, and that’s because of the city’s passionate, die-hard fans. So, it absolutely wouldn’t feel the same if we were to play games for the sake of putting them on TV.
But, anyone who has a prediction for when things will return to normal is guessing at best, and lying at worst. We don’t know, because we’ve never been through this before. There’s no playbook here. If we can get things to the point were it would be safe to have the athletes play without fans, I say go for it. We could use sports right now to help things feel a little closer to normal.
For all those Fire fans who were worried about Soldier Field being empty? Right now, that doesn’t seem so bad.