Belarus giving fans football fix but virus cases grow

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Floodlights at Dinamo Minsk FC’s home ground in Belarus. Photo: kotsreveb (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For the last couple of months football fans have been deprived of live sport, with nearly every major league suspended over coronavirus concerns.

But top professional soccer in the small Eastern European country of Belarus is still going –  as Forbes describes, “the Belarus Premier League is the last man standing.”

Major European competitions such as the English Premier League were set to resume play in May, but Sky Sports chief reporter Brian Swanson says the EPL’s return has been further postponed.

“The further suspension of English football is no big surprise the game accepts it cannot continue at the moment as the coronavirus pandemic spreads,” he said.

“The significance is the decision of the Football Association’s boards and their agreement in their words to extend indefinitely the time limits to the end of the season.”

The players themselves realise that suspending the leagues is the safest move, with current Scottish Premier League player, Steven Naismith telling Shemaroo Sports First that postponing the game was the right way to go.

“I think it was definitely the right move – Britain in general kind of the last ones to make that call but the biggest thing here is health and safety, that’s paramount for everything,” he said.

“You then go further down football wise and the fans compromising on any health issues or closed doors games goes against what we all do in this game and love this game for, so I think it was the right decision.”

Respective football governing bodies and players believe that suspending play was the right decision. Though not all countries have stopped its football, with European nation Belarus still continuing its topflight league and allowing fans to attend. Heading into its third matchday this weekend there are no signs of suspending play anytime soon.

The Belarusian Football Federation have embraced being the only football still going, securing TV deals with ten countries.

While being the only league in the world to give fans their fix, there are concerns its continuation is jeopardising the health of people in Belarus.

The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko hasn’t feared the risks of the virus saying citizens should combat it by drinking vodka and visiting the sauna.

He recently played in an ice-hockey game in front of a full crowd saying after the game to a reporter that “there are no viruses here. You haven’t noticed them flying around, have you? This is a fridge. Sport, particularly the ice, this fridge here. That’s the best actual anti-virus remedy.”

He added that it is better to “die standing that living on your knees.”

Belarus’ daily rate of new COVID-19 cases is now among the highest in Europe, with more than 21 thousand cases and one hundred and twenty one confirmed deaths as of the first week of May.