The Belarusian Premier League is one of the two sports competitions in the world not postponed during the pandemic. (The second one is Liga Primera de Nicaragua.) The first game kicked-off on March 17 with fans in the stadium.
However, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, is sure that there are no reasons for panicking. “[Belarusians] do not suffer the same psychosis as those in Western Europe” Lukashenko said in a USA Today article.
Sports with less viewership, like volleyball and basketball, are being stopped, while the Belarusian government is allowing soccer and hockey to continue. (Fun fact: The president used to play soccer and he now is a huge hockey fan.) Belarusian ice hockey Extraligue finished on April 3 in Minsk with only 239 fans visiting the second biggest indoor arena in the country.
In interviews, the managers say that they will stop playing only if they are made to and in no way would they start a boycott. The games of the first and second round were happening with spectators in attendance. After that, some fans of the club Neman Grodno issued a public statement announcing that they will stop attending their club’s games.
The rights to show Belarusian Premier League were bought by at least 12 countries. Belarusian soccer can be viewed on national channels in Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, India, Israel, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Ukraine, which further motivates players to keep playing.
It’s important to note that Giorgio Gori, the mayor of Bergamo, calls the Champions League game between Atalanta and Valencia a possible reason for the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. In Belarus, spectators are seated a safe distance from each other, and fan zones are closed. Starting from the third round, the games will be carried without the spectators.
For the first time in the history Belarusian Premier League is on the front pages of Spanish Marca, the New York Times, and the Daily Mail, with people still talking about the last European championship. Perhaps the risk of exposure is worth the publicity for Belarus, but only time will tell.