In the early months of the year 2020, the world was brought to a standstill in the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak. Professional sport was no different, as competitions around the world halted because of the rising number of cases and casualties.
However, life is starting to return to normal, albeit with certain restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. Sports leagues are up and running in different countries that have loosened restrictions.
For Michael Kempter, a Filipino-Swiss football player for FC Zurich in the Swiss Super League, it is all about adjusting to the ‘new normal’.
“We started this weekend, and we restarted the season because of COVID-19. After two months of break, we’re finally back here in Switzerland,” said the 25-year-old to acclaimed journalist Cedelf Tupas in the Tiebreaker Vods’ Crossover Podcast special episode, presented by SMART and supported by LGR, last June 26, 2020.
“After the first game, unfortunately, we lost our game (against Young Boys with two goals) in the last ten minutes. But now, in two days, we have a new game and then in five days again, so we have a big new program in the next six weeks. We have thirteen games here in six weeks. That’s tough.”
The 5-foot-11 defender, whose mother hails from Pasay City, disclosed that life is slowly getting back to how it once was in his home country. With that said, preparing for a game of football is not as straightforward as before.
Switzerland has 31,555 reported COVID-19 cases, with 29,100 recoveries as of publishing.
“Here in Switzerland, it’s not serious enough. It’s getting better and better. We had a lockdown, but not like in the Philippines that we have to stay at home. We were still free. We can go out. The supermarkets were open,” shared the former FC Rudolfstetten youth player.
“But we can’t make training sessions with over five players, so it was really hard. We had a hard program made from home. And since the end of May, we started with the team training again. So we have two weeks of pre-season and we start again. Now here we are.”
The onset of the coronavirus disease has made a few professional athletes vocal against a return to competition unless a vaccine is finally found. Leagues across Asia and Europe, though, have put up strategic plans for them to return, and everyone must strictly adhere to the new protocols.
“We got to check the temperature every day, in the morning when we arrive. We have to wear a mask like everywhere, in the wardrobe or in any room. Also, in the beginning, when we have friendly games with the team, we have to wear a mask on the bench,” said Kempter, a native of Schlieren.
“Now it’s okay. But we still have to wear a mask in the wardrobe. But normally we just have to check our temperatures, disinfect our hands, two meters off of other players, that’s it.”
Interestingly, while other leagues around the world continue to test players for COVID-19, the Swiss Super League is bucking that trend. It remains to be seen if this is the right course of action to take, but for now, games are set to go on as scheduled.
“No, we don’t make tests. Also the other teams, I think don’t make tests. I hope it’s good enough,” disclosed Kempter.
With football being a sport of endurance, regular hydration in games and in training is imperative, so much so that FIFA instituted water breaks for games that take place amid high temperatures. Players, even those who play in opposite teams, tend to share water during lulls, but that is one of the things that have been changed in the sport because of COVID-19.
“You drink water from everywhere, but now you just have to bring your own.
“It’s not allowed to drink from the other ones. But here in Switzerland, it’s getting nearly the same. It’s getting normal,” he explained.
As of this writing, FC Zurich is fifth place in the Swiss Super League table at 35 points, with 11 games to go. Kempter and his teammates hope to qualify for European competition in the following season despite the odds being stacked against them.
Nevertheless, he has one eye on playing for the Philippine Azkals, which was allowed to happen thanks to interventions from coach Scott Cooper and veteran player Martin Steuble.
There is still no word as to when qualification matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar can resume. The erstwhile Switzerland youth national team player, though, hopes to play a part in it.
“I see this team with a very big quality. Especially when you see the players, the single players, they have really good quality, and I think we have a bright future with the system of our coach (Cooper). I always tell to Martin (Steuble) or to the coach our goal has to be (qualification) at the World Cup, that’s it,” he shared.
“One time World Cup with the Philippines — that would be a great history for football in the Philippines, so it’s getting popular and popular.”