On the spot

Gabriele Freytag

Head of the Directorate for Sport,

Senate Department for the Interior and Sport,

City of Berlin

Lockdown can lead to a lack of exercise and physical activity, damaging physical and mental health. However, the period was also a propitious time for innovation and creativity. What kind of creative initiatives was the City of Berlin able to use to combine the constraints of lockdown with the need for physical activity, to keep its population mentally and physically healthy and maintain a link to its citizens?

Berlin is a very active city. A 2019 study showed that more than 80 percent of Berliners exercise regularly. That is why the Senate of Berlin continued to allow people to engage in individual open air physical exercise during intermediate lockdown. Anyone who wanted to go out for a bike ride or a run was able to do so at any time as long as they did so either on their own or together with other members of their household. In addition to regulations on physical exercise, almost all other kinds of sports in Berlin had to be put on hold during the lockdown. Only a few exceptions were allowed to continue. Public and private sport facilities were shut down. All sporting events had to be cancelled.

To stay in touch with their members, many instructors in sports clubs released weekly exercise plans. Coaches posted instructions for training sessions on various digital media platforms. Professional clubs like our basketball team Alba Berlin offered daily coaching sessions during regular school hours on their YouTube channel, which was a welcome break from home schooling for kids and teenagers. Some coaches even developed board games for their students to play during Easter break. These combined questions to test their expertise in the respective sport and different kinds of exercises. The regional sports association Berlin, with financial support from the Senate, cooperated with local clubs and a regional TV channel to screen a daily morning exercise video on TV to ensure that the elderly, who may not have access to a computer, could stay active while sheltering at home.

Germany was one of the first European countries easing lockdown regulations and allowing professional sports to resume. How is the City of Berlin handling the situation? What kind of specific measures have been put in place?

Germany is a federal country. This means that decisions regarding the lockdown and any subsequent easing of the lockdown were made by the government of each respective federal state. But the governments of individual states regularly communicated with each other. The Berlin Senate additionally coordinates its decisions with the government of the neighbouring federal state Brandenburg.

Given the low number of new infections and the medical capacities in Berlin, we have been able to slowly re-allow a variety of sports since the end of April. At the beginning, we only allowed people to participate in outdoor sports such as tennis which could be played by two people at a safe distance. Since then, we have allowed people to practice group sports with a limited number of participants in outdoor and indoor sports facilities, as long as they follow all social distancing rules and comply with hygiene measures. Almost all national sports associations have published exercise concepts for their specific sport that help orient coaches and instructors on the ground in sports clubs.

Gyms and yoga studios, ballet and dance schools and outdoor swimming pools have also reopened. They have to comply with specific measures to ensure the safety of their members and visitors.

Berlin is an events city, used to organise major sports and non-sport events. What is the perspective for the sport industry (events, leagues)?

Owners and managers of sports facilities, Berlin sports clubs and associations and the professional clubs in Berlin as well as private sports organizers and promoters and their service providers might face huge losses of income and the economic existence of some is at risk.

The goal of the Berlin Senate is to protect the existing structures of the Sportsmetropolis Berlin in their entirety. Berlin is known for the diversity of its sport offerings and we want to preserve this trademark of the city for the future. This is why the Senate has not only supported non-profit sports (e.g. the regional sports association and its member federations and clubs) with a safety net so they can better face the financial crisis caused by the effects of Corona. It has also worked with our professional clubs and traditional sports organizers by developing a joint marketing campaign for the Sportsmetropolis Berlin to support all our partners. We have set aside more than eight million Euros for this.
The match operations of the German Bundesliga already re-started without spectators and in line with strict expert-driven hygiene regulations. Events with up to 1,000 people will be allowed again after 1 July 2020. And, as long as there is no second wave, events with up to 5,000 people will be allowed again from 1 September to 24 October 2020. In addition, a sports metropolis initiative is working to develop new concepts for sport sites to go back to hosting events with spectators.

For the local population, what specific actions is the City carrying out to not only allow safe sport practice but also “sport life”?

Almost all large events have either been cancelled or postponed to next year. Berlin clubs and federations focusing on non-contact sports are allowed to already host competitions upon approval from the Berlin government. Similar to how other areas of everyday social life are slowly going back to normal, so, too, have sports clubs. For example, club cafes are operating under the same regulations as other restaurants and cafes in the city. But there is still a long way to go until ‘sport life’ will be fully back to normal.