The National Women’s Soccer League followed in the footsteps of Major League Soccer on Monday, announcing that players will be able to use outdoor team training fields for solo practice sessions starting May 6. These individual workout sessions will be voluntary and will comply with the league’s “Return to Play Phased Protocol.” The “Return to Play Phased Protocol” was created by the NWSL’s medical task force and details all health and safety guidelines in addition to requiring teams to respect all government mandates.
Preseason for the league’s eighth season began on March 4, but NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird swiftly announced its suspension on March 12 due to the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic. As a result, the 2020 regular season did not kick off as scheduled on April 18, and the league-wide moratorium on full team training remains in place through and including May 15.
Beginning May 6, players who participate in the voluntary, individual workouts will not have access to locker rooms, weight rooms and indoor team training rooms. Only players who require medical treatment are allowed to use team weight rooms and training rooms. An essential staff member will, while maintaining social distancing, be allowed to oversee training in this phase to ensure that players are following all league and team protocols. According to the league statement, the NWSL hopes to have teams go through specific “phases” until full team training and play can resume. Many teams in the German Bundesliga also followed this first phase of only allowing individual practice sessions and is hoping to resume play later this month.
While the league is allowing players to use team’s outdoor training fields, it requires that each team get approval from their medical staff before making any decisions, screen participating players daily for COVID-19 symptoms, thoroughly clean and disinfect all commonly touched surfaces daily and limit the number of staff to only include essential personnel. Additionally, players who are fulfilling self-quarantine for any reason are not allowed to enter team practice facilities and everyone has been advised to continue to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines for good hygiene which include refraining from touching your face, washing your hands often and thoroughly and practice social distancing.
According to Steven Goff of the Washington Post, the NWSL is eyeing May 16 for the return of training camp, which would make it the earliest American sports league to return. The league also told all of its players at the end of April that they should return to their team markets within two weeks for medical exams. While it remains to be seen if the NWSL can actually hold its season this year, the NWSL might be better suited than some other men’s leagues to due to its smaller operating numbers and a higher ability to adapt to changing circumstances. As Forbes’ Howard Megdal wrote, “consider that while every league requires the coming together of hundreds of people to fully operate, the NWSL has just nine teams, making such an undertaking exponentially easier (though still, let’s be clear, extremely difficult with unknown variables) than, for instance, Major League Soccer.”