How soon is too soon? Spain ponders safety, morality of Liga return
BARCELONA - "Football in Spain generates around 1.3 per cent of the country's gross domestic product and is responsible for 180,000 jobs," said La Liga president, Javier Tebas, this week.
They are big numbers, and in the past he has always been keen to use them to remind non-fans of the sport just how important football is.
But in recent weeks they have been overtaken by far more important numbers.
Spain has now recorded 22,524 deaths from Covid-19 with 219,764 cases diagnosed.
It has become increasingly difficult to convince the country that football matters.
Against that backdrop, the sport still seemed to be edging towards putting the "open for business" signs up again this week with testing of all players due to take place next Tuesday ahead of a May 4 return to training.
But on Friday it was revealed by various Spanish media that the league had written to all clubs, temporarily postponing the testing while there was still no government go-ahead for players to return to work.
The retreat was welcomed by the players. Their union, AFE, has already made it clear it will only sanction a return when the country's health experts have ordained it.
Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams summed up the mood of many of the country's professionals when he said: "I am not planning on playing again all the time there are still people dying."
Valladolid director David Espinar said: "What I don't like is that we have linked the possible return to mere economic concerns."
And Sevilla winger Suso told Radio Marca: "My pregnant wife is due to give birth in six weeks. If I come to training, catch the virus, and then give it to her I would never be able to forgive myself.
"If there is a 1 per cent risk then I think it is best we do not continue [with the season]."
Tebas wants to eliminate that risk by having players, in effect, in quarantine - in team hotels or at their club's training facilities - while they train and play out the rest of the season.
And he wants regular testing. Hence the original plan to begin on Tuesday.
But testing players continues to be questioned on moral grounds.
When tests were originally sent to all 20 first division clubs at the start of the crisis by La Liga, some clubs refused to use them.
Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales said: "It seems out of place to me when there are people who need it more. It shows a lack of solidarity, and is even anti-patriotic."
Health minister Salvador Illa has reassures people football will not be queue jumping. "There is an order from the ministry that indicates under what conditions the tests must be done," he said.
And in an online forum on Friday, Tebas said: "We are not going to do anything different from other companies to ensure a safe return to work so that workers are not infected."
The tests will be administered eventually and La Liga remains determined that clubs will return to training and to playing.
But the sensitivity of the issue will not diminish while the daily death toll - albeit now in decline - continues to be so high.dpa