As the world's premier club competition returns, a reminder of the fantastic work done by many teams at the height of the coronavirus crisis – much of which continues to this day.
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From Atalanta to Real Madrid, all 12 clubs remaining in the UEFA Champions League launched countless initiatives to support fans and communities during football’s long period of inactivity.
Activities included raising funds to purchase life-saving medical equipment, delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable or using the sport’s enormous reach to deliver vital health messages.
“Football really can be an important vehicle for good,” says UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin. “These examples demonstrate that.”
Atalanta teamed up with fellow Bergamo institution RadiciGroup to support the establishment of an emergency field hospital built by Italy’s National Alpine Association. In what initially was one of the hardest-hit regions in Europe, the football club and chemicals company contributed to the purchase of all the facilities necessary for the administration of oxygen to the 200 beds that were set up to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis.
The field hospital offered some respite to the overstretched capacity of the permanent local hospitals, one of which – the Bolognini Hospital, Seriate – was supplied with a mobile HRCT, part-donated by Atalanta. The equipment allowed diagnostic investigations for patients who suffered breathing problems potentially related to the coronavirus. Players and club officials also donated directly to the Pope John XXIII Hospital in Bergamo.
Club Atlético de Madrid
The 2014 and 2016 finalists arranged virtual press conferences, held online for fans and media to speak with players who answered questions from home. The club wanted “to keep our social following and the media in contact with our players”.
“We posted a new video every three or four days,” Atlético explained. “It went down well with fans and journalists. We opened a window for fans to interact with players, which is often very hard to do in ordinary circumstances.”
It definitely helped to show the human side of players, something that fans and media might not always see. “The players did many things – some privately – to help people,” added the club. “Our fans are one of our greatest assets and the players were delighted to be able to spend time with them.”
As well as providing this new insight, Atlético used its platform to transmit public health messages at the height of the pandemic, saying that it was vital to “remind people about the importance of staying at home and supporting those people who are fighting the virus.”
Barcelona offered their facilities to the Catalan government in the event that additional space might be required to cope with the number of COVID-19 patients. The club also donated 30,000 face masks to the health department of the Generalitat de Catalunya through the Barça Foundation.
Among the club’s players, captain Lionel Messi donated €1 million to help efforts to treat and contain the virus in Barcelona and his native Argentina. Former player and coach Pep Guardiola also made a donation to one of the city’s hospitals.
What's more, the club ceded the title rights of its Camp Nou stadium to the Barça Foundation for the 2020/21 season to raise money which will be invested in research projects in the fight against the effects of COVID-19.
FC Bayern München
Bayern, together with Germany’s three other initial UEFA Champions League participants – Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer 04 Leverkusen – set up a solidarity fund worth €20 million to help clubs in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga who are struggling to cope with the economic consequences of German football’s shutdown.
To establish the fund, the four clubs will forego their share of the undistributed national media revenue from the German Football League (DFL) for the 2020/21 campaign (approximately €12.5 million) and also allocate €7.5 million of their own resources. “This campaign underlines that solidarity in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga is not lip service, ” said Christian Seifert, the DFL chief executive.
When it will finally be safe for fans to return to football stadia, Bayern, Internazionale and Real Madrid plan to hold the ‘European Solidarity Cup – Football for Heroes’. This round-robin tournament, which would involve one match being played in each club’s city, aims to generate additional funds for the purchase of new medical infrastructure.
In a separate initiative, Bayern will invite 5,000 nurses, carers and doctors to the home match against Real Madrid. “Nurses, carers and doctors in particular are doing an outstanding job for society at the moment,” said Bayern chairman and CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “We want to pay tribute to this, and that’s why it is called ‘Football for Heroes’.”
Among a multitude of community-focused responses, Chelsea offered free use of the hotel (and car park) that adjoins their Stamford Bridge ground for the use of medical staff working in west London hospitals. Several former and current players took part in video calls with elderly and vulnerable Blues fans while manager Frank Lampard did likewise with a National Health Service doctor.
Donations were made to aid the vulnerable, youth clubs and domestic abuse charities – to name just a few – while the women’s team gave their league-title prize money to the last of those causes. Online learning resources, exercise packs and IT support helped young and old alike while Antonio Rüdiger paid for nurses’ meals for three months in the Berlin hospital at which he was born, as well as supplying 60,000 face masks in Sierre Leone.
Juventus reacted quickly to the coronavirus outbreak, being located in one of the first severely affected regions in Europe. The club donated all the food that was intended to be served at their postponed Coppa Italia semi-final against Milan to the most needy.
Just a few days later, Juventus launched a fundraiser – "#DistantiMaUniti" (Distant but United) – in support of the Piedmont region for the purchase of medical supplies, and for the aid of healthcare facilities and medical staff.
The first donation of €300,000 was made jointly by the club and the players, with the desire to send a strong message of awareness. The monies collected went towards the Piedmont Region-Coronavirus emergency support.
In addition to being part of the group of clubs that set up the solidarity fund in Germany (see Bayern entry above), the players and the club also took part in the #WirAlle campaign. This was launched to inform, actively help and offer various forms of entertainment to Leipzig’s fans. The club also donated to local social institutions and the players gave away signed equipment.
Manchester City FC
With no football matches or training taking place, Manchester City transformed the campus on which their stadium and training ground sit so that it could be used by local health bodies. The stadium itself was turned into a facility for the training of 350 nurses and also offered a number of services for health staff including a rest, relaxation and exercise centre.
The club’s car parks served as a drive-through coronavirus testing site. Players made calls to fans, shared their favourite recipes and donated signed boots to raise money for the health services. In addition, City teamed up with local rivals Manchester United to make a substantial food bank donation.
City chief operating officer, Omar Berrada, said: “It was abundantly clear from the outset of this pandemic that we would be able to help, but we wanted to understand how we could do so most effectively in order to best support our public services, our fans and the wider Manchester community.”
In an effort to remain in contact with the club's fans and to keep their spirits up, the southern Italian side launched their SSC Napoli Home Workout.
Through a series of six video lessons on home fitness, Bruno Dominici, Dino Tenderini, Massimo Innocenti and Marco Sangermani helped supporters keep themselves trim at home.
The lessons were split into three difficulty levels – basic, intermediate and advanced – and were available to follow free of charge.
Lyon allocated €300,000 through its foundation, which was divided into two main areas: a third of the donation was set aside to finance two clinical research projects carried out by teams of medical researchers from the Hospices Civils de Lyon; the remainder was put into the emergency needs of the local population – hospital materials and equipment, and aid for the most vulnerable.
The seven-time French champions then followed that up by announcing the formation of the 'sOLidaire' (solidarity) fund for all those wishing to donate to the fight against the coronavirus. From that, more than €166,000 was raised, thanks to several Lyon fan groups, sponsors, professional players and 500 members of the public.
Paris Saint-Germain FC
Paris raised over €250,000 for local healthcare services by releasing a limited edition shirt featuring the words ‘Tous Unis’ (All Together) in place of the club’s sponsor as well as other badges pledging support to medics. “We cannot be grateful enough for the tremendous and courageous work that healthcare staff are doing every day to deal with this emergency,” said PSG chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaïfi.
Through the PSG Foundation, various associations and bodies received 260,000 masks and goggles to help keep their teams and the people they cared for safe.
PSG delivered 25,000 fresh, homemade meals – prepared in food trucks stationed at the Parc des Princes – to Greater Paris University Hospitals and Action Against Hunger (AFC). All of the club's assets, such as the Parc des Princes and its fleet of vehicles, were put at the disposal of Greater Paris University Hospitals and partner charities.
Real Madrid CF
Madrid and the High Council for Sport (CSD) worked together to create a medical supplies centre at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.
The Real Madrid Foundation also ran a fundraising campaign with the proceeds going towards critical medical equipment needed to treat patients with COVID-19 symptoms. It included an auction with Madrid legends contributing signed memorabilia including Iker Casillas donating gloves, Roberto Carlos a pair of boots and Fernando Hierro a shirt.