FOR football in Belarus, the show goes on.
Despite the vast majority of Europe shutting down public gatherings, sporting events and non-essential contact due to the coronavirus, the Belarus Premier League continues to operate as normal.
Their new season began on March 19, with reigning champions Dynamo Brest hoping to win just their second ever title.
Why is the Belarus League still playing despite coronavirus?
THE Belarus Premier League – or Vysheyshaya Liga – is the only major football league still playing in Europe.
As a result of staying operational, the Belarus Football Federation has managed to bag broadcasting deals with sports networks in 10 countries, including Russia, Israel and India.
But former Arsenal and Barcelona ace Alexander Hleb has slammed bosses for keeping the competition going.
Some high-profile voices from within the country are now revelling in the spotlight now being shone on the league, which averages 2,500 matchday fans per game.
And President Alexander Lukashenko has been keen to stress that it remains strictly business as usual, despite most of Europe locking down and closing their borders.
He said: “This psychosis has crippled national economies almost everywhere in the world. Life is going on. You cannot put it on hold.
“I don’t drink, but recently I’ve been saying that people should not only wash their hands with vodka, but also poison the virus with it.”
While Alexander Strok, a club spokesman for top-flight club Dinamo Minsk, hopes that viewers tuning in for their football fix will stay when their own leagues eventually return.
He said: “We hope it will improve the level of the game because the players may get more responsible.
“[New fans] will not only watch English or Italian leagues, but also the Belarus one from time to time.”
There are signs that people are taking matters into their own hands though, with attendances starkly down in early season matches.
Across Belarus, over 65’s are being encouraged to stay indoors, while pupils are authorised not to attend school.
FK Minsk’s derby with Dinamo on March 28 saw the stands half empty, while some fans were worried about catching the virus from others who weren’t taking as much care.
One fan, Igor, told AFP: “Even if we’ve turned up here, we try to self-isolate, we came by car, we wash our hands ten times.
“It’s as if [some other fans] aren’t aware of anything, they go here and there, they’re laughing.”
What fixtures are on this week?
THERE have been some early shocks in the opening two matches of the new campaign.
BATE and Dinamo Minsk have both lost their opening pair of games, while FC Minsk top the table.
The competition consists of 16 teams, with the title winners going into the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and three teams relegated.
Here are the games being held week beginning Monday, March 30:
Friday, April 3 (all times BST)
- Belshina vs Gorodeja (3pm)
- Dinamo Minsk vs Zhodino (5pm)
Saturday, April 4
- Shakhtyor Soligorsk vs Neman (1.30pm)
- BATE vs Rukh Brest (3.30pm)
- Brest vs Slavia Mozyr (5.30pm)
Sunday, April 5
- Energetik-BGU vs FC Minsk (12pm)
- Vitebsk vs Smolevichi (2pm)
- Isloch Minsk vs Slutsk (4pm)