World watches on as South Korea’s League kicks off

South Korea’s K League will have a profile it has never enjoyed before when the delayed 2020 season kicks off in Jeonju on Friday, providing top-flight soccer action to a world starved of live sport.

Defending champions Jeonbuk Motors open the season when they host Korean FA Cup holders Suwon Bluewings at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in a fixture put back more than two months by the coronavirus outbreak.

Broadcasters from 10 countries, mostly in Asia and Europe, have bought rights for the season and Friday’s match will be streamed live with English commentary on the league’s Twitter feed and YouTube.

With the baseball season having started on Tuesday, South Korea is well aware that it is blazing a trail for nations returning to normality after the coronavirus shutdown.

“I expect sports to give hope to the people desiring the recovery of their daily lives as early as possible,” the country’s President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.

No fans will be allowed into the stadium for the match despite South Korea’s widely-admired success at containing the spread of COVID-19, allowing a move from social distancing to “everyday quarantine” as of Wednesday.

Other protocols have been put in place to protect the health of the players.

A nod of the head will replace the traditional pre-match handshake, spitting is discouraged, and excessive goal-scoring celebrations are banned.

Players and staff will also have their temperatures checked when they enter the stadium, even though they have all been tested for the virus.

“About a week ago, we decided to get everyone, players and coaching staff, tested for the coronavirus so that there will be little or no risk of infection even if there’s contact,” Lee Jong-kwoun, the K League’s head of communication, told Reuters on Thursday.

“So about 1,100 players and coaches and team staff members were tested and fortunately everyone came back negative.”

If any players or staff test positive for COVID-19 during the remainder of the season, their team will be suspended from competition for two weeks.

The league is passing on the lessons they have learned to other professional leagues around the world through their safety manual, Lee said.

The K League is hoping fans will be able to return to stadiums before too long in a season cut to 27 rounds from 38 because of the COVID-19 delay.