Belarus is the only league in Europe where they're still playing football

  • Kat Lucas

Across Europe, stadia have fallen silent in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. 

There is no indication when the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga or Ligue 1 will return. 

All we know at present is that England’s top-flight is officially suspended until April 30 – but it’s thought hugely unlikely that games will go ahead anywhere close to that date. 

Unfortunately, the thought of supporters flocking to a packed ground to watch their heroes is unthinkable at present. 

Indeed, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK on lockdown on Monday night, it would even be impossible to play games behind closed doors under the current guidelines. 

It really seems as if the entire game has just ground to a halt. Which it has, except in Belarus. 

The Vysheyshaya Liga began as scheduled last week, with Energetik BGU beating BATE Borisov 3-1 in the first game. 

Footage shows hundreds of fans present in the stadium. 

Quoted in the Daily Mail, Belarus FA chief Vladimir Bazanov insisted he had no plans to cancel fixtures due to the relatively limited number of cases of COVID-19 in the country. 

At the time of writing, there are no confirmed deaths and only 81 cases. Their first positive test was on February 28. 

“For what reason should we not start it? Is a state of emergency declared in our country?” Bazanov said. 

“There is no critical situation. So we decided that we are starting the championship in a timely manner. 

“Yes, many matches in Europe have been played without spectators. But so many fans gather around the stadium that it makes no sense to close off the game.”

Others aren’t so optimistic. Belarus’ most famous footballing export, Alexander Hleb, formerly of Arsenal, spoke of his surprise at the games going ahead. 

Hleb responds 

“It’s incredible. Maybe in one week or two weeks we will stop here. Maybe our president is just waiting to see what happens with the virus,” Hleb said, via the same report. 

“Everybody here knows what’s happened to Italy and Spain. It doesn’t look good. But in our country, people in the presidential administration believe it’s not as extreme as the news says.

“A lot of young people and students here think like this. I’m keeping at home with my family. But when I go out, the streets and restaurants are still busy.

“All the world now watches the Belarusian league. Everybody should go to their television and see us.”

While the situation may seem ridiculous, particularly to outsiders, Hleb joked that at least it provided sport in Belarus with some rare global attention. 

“When the NHL closed the season, a lot of ice hockey players went to Russia to play. Maybe Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might come to the Belarus league to continue. You know?

“It’s the only place in Europe you can play football. At least then the people of Belarus will be happy.”

Hleb retired from football last year. 

Fans have been joking about betting on obscure league for weeks, but it’s still incredible to find that in what feels like an alternate universe, a league is still going on and life in football continues as normal. 

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