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Costa Rica becoming first country in Latin America to resume soccer tournament

May 18, 2020

Suspended two months ago, the Costa Rica soccer championship will return to action Tuesday and Wednesday under strict sanitary measures and amid a low level of spread of the new coronavirus across the country in recent weeks.

The resumption was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but the Guadalupe-Limón and Cartaginés-Alajuelense matches were moved to Tuesday.

The 16th match day of the Clausura tournament will be completed on Wednesday with Grecia-Pérez Zeledón, Universitarios-Santos, San Carlos-Jicaral and Saprissa-Herediano.

Costa Rica, which has achieved some success in the containment of COVID-19 with a low level of infection and lethality, thus becomes the first Latin American country to resume top-level soccer (with the exception of Nicaragua, which never suspended its tournament).

But it does so under notable restrictions: without crowds in the stands and inviting only the minimum number of people in the stadium — players, coaching staff, doctors and officials.

From the press, only television and official radios of the hosting team can be present, with the minimum possible equipment to carry out their work.

No hugs and no spitting

Under the protocol adopted by the Costa Rican Football Federation (Fedefutbol) and the first division league (Unafut), all those who enter the stadiums will be subjected to temperature checks and, with the exception of players, must wear masks.

Players are prohibited from hugging to celebrate goals and may not spit during the match.

Likewise, the balls used will be disinfected before the game and at half time.

Last Friday, the 12 teams in the first division resumed group training after two weeks of separate practice in small groups to minimize contact.

“I have to be grateful for the decisions that this country has made regarding the pandemic. It is important for today to be the first country in America to return to football,” said Argentine Andrés Carevic, coach of Alajuelense, one of the most popular clubs in the country.

On the contrary, the analyst and sports historian Rodrigo Calvo considered the return of football inopportune.

“There is no other way to say it better: it is not a good time to play soccer anywhere in the world, until there is a vaccine against the coronavirus,” Calvo said in a written opinion sent to AFP.

Soccer clubs face a difficult financial situation that has many on the verge of bankruptcy, but “the health risk is total in a contact sport,” Calvo said.

Saprissa-Herediano highlights return

The president of Unafut, Julián Solano, assured that “we are returning to soccer because we have a social security system that has allowed us to control the pandemic.”

“Not only is football back, but there are other activities that have been authorized by the government. All with a protocol endorsed by the authorities,” added Solano, referring to the gradual resumption of suspended activities to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.

In one of the most striking matches of the date, the table leader Saprissa will welcome the  reigning champions, Herediano.

“All the teams started from scratch, the important thing is to deliver a message of authority in this first match,” said Saprissista right-back Ricardo Blanco.

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