Never mind 2020–Forward Madison FC faces uncertainty in 2021

Breese Stevens Field

Shut out of Breese Stevens Field in 2020 by county health officials, Forward Madison FC may also be forced to play elsewhere in 2021 if Dane County doesn’t allow for group gatherings.

Only Forward Madison FC and New Mexico United (USL Championship) have been denied the opportunity to play home games this season among MLS, USL Championship and USL League One teams. Forward Madison moved its home games to Hart Park in suburban Milwaukee and shifted practices to the Wisconsin Dells. Forward Madison led USL League One teams in attendance in 2019 and had presented a plan to Dane County for socially distanced operations at Breese Stevens Field, but in the end officials denied permission. Cases have been on the rise in Dane County as well as Wisconsin overall:

On the one hand, public health officials are right in pointing out that it’s too early to make decisions for a sport that launches next spring. But at the same time we’re now getting to the point where budgets and plans must be set for the coming season, and without guidance from Dane County on what milestones must be met before fans are allowed in the stands, it’s impossible for Forward Madison FC to make plans. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Public Health Madison and Dane County spokeswoman Sarah Mattes said the current public health order doesn’t allow for indoor bar service and concert venues are treated as a mass gathering with limits of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

With an elevated level of COVID-19 case counts recently, Mattes said it’s hard to pinpoint what will need to happen to allow Forward Madison to play at home next year.

“I can’t speak to the decision-making process of other jurisdictions, but we are in the middle of a global pandemic and bringing people together in activities that require close contact, physical exertion and large numbers increase the likelihood of spreading COVID-19,” Mattes said in an email.

“CDC states that the highest level of risk related to sports is competitions between teams of different geographic regions which would be the case for Forward Madison games at Breese Stevens.”

That is tightly parsed, to be sure, and not quite accurate. The CDC advice–laid out here–is aimed directly toward youth athletes and specifically not geared toward the adults presumably found on the Forward Madison FC roster: “CDC does not currently have guidance for adult sports leagues.”

And the Dane County prohibition against more than 25 fans at an outdoor sporting event does not match CDC guidance, which recommends no such limitation but recognizes the risks of attending a match and advises wearing masks and frequently washing hands. This is the same game plan being employed by the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.

Everyone wants sports to return, and it’s no secret that there were a few bumps this year when play resumed too quickly. The track record of Wisconsin state pro soccer and summer-collegiate leagues–no outbreaks in several markets, as well as no issues traced to the Forward Madison FC games and practices–should at least be given some consideration by local officials.

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