The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the world in the past few months, bringing most major sporting action to a standstill. Football in many countries has been indefinitely suspended, with no date of resumption on the immediate anvil.
Euro 2020, scheduled to be held at the end of the season, has been postponed by a year owing to the pandemic. But, amidst all this gloom and uncertainty, there is one European nation where football is still being played, and that is Belarus.
The 30th season of the Belarusian Premier League kicked off on 19th March 2020, at a time when most major leagues across the continent have already been postponed. Belarus has not been affected by the pandemic as severely as other countries. But there has also been a lack of willingness on the part of concerned authorities in terms of imposing nation-wide restrictions to check the spread of the virus.
The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, recently claimed that no one would die from coronavirus in his country, and rejected the need for strict lockdown measures. The Belarusian Health Ministry has reported 29 deaths so far, which Lukashenko has refused to acknowledge as being strictly caused by the virus. However, the effect of the virus is visible in the country. Most people have opted to stay away from attending live matches in stadiums.
Clubs have also been unhappy to continue playing in such circumstances, which was evident when Dynamo Brest stuck photos of people onto mannequins, and placed them in the stands. This was to make up for the absence of fans during the club's Belarusian Cup semifinal against Shakhtyor Soligorsk on 8th April.
Even former Arsenal player Alexander Hleb recently expressed his displeasure on the negligence shown by authorities in letting the football games continue. But the Belarus Football Federation (ABFF) seems interested in taking advantage of the situation. At the moment, they are the only European professional football league still being played.
The ABFF has struck several overseas deals with broadcasters seeking live sports content during the ongoing pandemic. TV networks in neighbouring Russia and Ukraine, as well as countries like Israel and India, are reportedly in talks with the Federation to acquire the broadcasting rights to the Belarussian league.
The Belarusian Premier League comprises of 16 teams that compete for the top prize of qualifying for the Champions League. The top-ranked team in the league gains entry in the Champions League first qualifying round, whereas the second and third-placed teams qualify for the Europa League second qualifying round.
Belarus' most recognisable club is BATE Borisov. The team from Borisov is the only one from the country to have qualified for the Champions League group stage, doing so on multiple occasions in recent years.
BATE Borisov are also the most successful domestic team in Belarus, winning 15 league titles, 13 of them consecutively between 2006 and 2018. However, the team from Borisov's domestic dominance was halted by Dynamo Brest last season, as the latter won their first-ever league title.
Presently, four rounds of games have been played in this season's Belarusian League. The duo of Torpedo-BeIAZ Zhodino and Energetik-BGU Minsk occupy the top spot, with 9 points apiece. Though the sight of 22 players sweating it out on a football pitch is a welcome sight for fans in such gloomy days, we can only pray that all this ends well and doesn't turn into a big disaster.