The eyes of the football world will be on the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Korea on Friday night, when the K-League becomes the first major competition to resume following the coronavirus shutdown.
Most leagues around the world were suspended or postponed as the outbreak wreaked havoc on sporting plans, although several – in Belarus, Burundi, Tajikistan and Nicaragua – ploughed on amid the pandemic.
But Korea’s top flight, which was supposed to start in February, will become the first major league to get back under way when champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors kick off the defence of their title against Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
Germany’s Bundesliga will follow suit on 16 May, but for now the K-League offers the first opportunity for months to watch a major football competition – although it will not entirely be football as we remember it.
Given the strict guidelines put in place to allow for the resumption of play, there will be no handshakes allowed, conversation between players and officials will be restricted, and coaches will have to wear face masks.
No fans will be allowed in the stadium, and players have been told “excessive spitting or blowing of the nose is prohibited”.
“During the game, players who habitually spit or talk closely will be warned,” said K-League communication officer Woo Cheoung-sik.
Adam Taggart, one of two Australians on the books of Suwon Samsung Bluewings along with Terry Antonis, said the new guidelines and how they would be enforced were not entirely clear.
“We are still waiting to get a full explanation on that,” Taggart told the BBC. “The talking part, if that is correct, is going to be a tough one. Although I do not speak Korean, you can still communicate with your teammates so I don’t really understand if we are going to get punished if we do talk. You can just imagine there will be red cards left, right and centre if people are going to get punished for talking.
“I have heard that the coaching staff will be wearing masks and it probably sounds strange to everyone else but it is normal here. No one would say anything about it – on the streets or in the shops, you would not see anyone without one. I wear a mask myself here so it is sort of second nature already. You feel a bit naked running about without a mask on. I almost feel naughty.”
The game will be livestreamed on Twitter and Youtube by the K-League’s official accounts, while in Australia the streaming service Optus secured broadcast rights earlier this week and will show Friday’s opener and the remainder of the season.