On March 12, 2020 the USL League One temporarily suspended its 2020 season in light of the COVID-19 crisis and the World Health Organization’s classification of the disease as a pandemic. The USL was not alone in this decision, joining every other major American sports league in ceasing play while – as a society – we grappled with how to manage the virus. Shortly thereafter, we began work putting together these Return-to-Play Protocols (these “Protocols”), which are designed to protect the health and safety of all involved, and we have continued to modify them as circumstances have changed and we have come to learn more about the virus.
USL consulted with a variety of stakeholders in the development of these protocols. As an initial matter, the league’s Board of Governors created a “Hiatus Task Force”, made up of individuals nominated by the teams, to dive deeply into issues related to health and safety. Through that process, in tandem with a similar task force at the USL Championship level, we were able to understand many of the best practices instilled by Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Women’s Soccer League. To this end, USL also actively participated in the United States Soccer Federation’s COVID-19 task force, through which it worked closely with MLS and NWSL to share best practices specific to the soccer context. The USL Players Association (“USLPA”) reviewed, commented on, and provided input to the 2020 Protocols, the USLPA bargaining committee approved them, and they were ratified by its membership. The USLPA has continued to review, comment on, and provide input to the 2021 version of these Protocols, the USLPA bargaining committee once again approved them, and they have again been ratified by its membership.
If teams cannot comply with any of the requirements (e.g., because of their venue infrastructure), they should contact the league as soon as possible to devise an alternative, medically acceptable plan, which shall be subject to League Office approval.
Given the nature of the COVID-19 threat, no one approach is sufficient to mitigate the spread of the virus. While for example, regular testing of asymptomatic individuals will help, this single step is not foolproof. To this end, the League One’s Return-to-Play Protocols take a five-pronged approach to mitigate against the risk of COVID-19. These elements are:
Below, more detail is provided as to how each of these elements will be applied in practice.
In soccer, a certain degree of contact is inevitable. With that, except where impossible or highly impracticable, social distancing measures are required under the USL Return-to-Play Protocols. To give some examples of how this process will work in practice:
In order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the USL Return to Play Protocols require that:
Based on our conversations with medical experts, rigorous screening for symptoms and immediate isolation of symptomatic cases is essential to mitigating the spread of the COVID-19. To that end:
Given the risks posed by COVID-19 and based on our conversations with medical experts, the USL has determined that it is advisable to exceed state and local health department requirements and recommendations and institute a comprehensive testing regimen for all players, as well as for all other club personnel who may interact with players.
The USL is highly aware that these protocols are only valuable to the extent that all participants in our ecosystem fully understand and abide by them. To this end, all players and staff who may interact with players will receive comprehensive training on the protocols. In addition, each team will designate one or more Health Officers who will be responsible for providing follow-on education within their team and implementing the protocols.
In the unlikely event that teams cannot comply with any of the requirements (e.g., because of venue infrastructure), they are required to contact the league as soon as possible to devise an alternative, medically acceptable plan, which is subject to League Office approval.
While unlikely, it is also possible that, in some cases, these Protocols will be less strict than the guidance, recommendations or requirements of applicable state and local health authorities. In such cases, teams and players must comply first and foremost with their local and state health authority guidance. To be clear, these protocols are intended to supplement, not replace, health authority guidance.
These Protocols remain subject to change and, as the situation evolves and we learn more about the novel coronavirus, we may update these Protocols as appropriate.
From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the health and wellness of players, staff and supporters has been our top priority, and for more than three months we have been working every day to make sure that our return-to-play was done safely.
We also want to be as transparent as possible with you about the steps that are being taken. As such, we have from the beginning remained committed to publishing the full list of protocols. While everything to this point serves as a summary, we believe that seeing every step taken to provide for player, staff and supporter health is in the best interest of all involved.
Below are the policies and protocols in their entirety.