What coronavirus? Fans pack stadium to watch Minsk derby as Belarus remains lone league riding out Covid-19 storm
Football in Belarus has continued its lone defiance in the face of the Covid-19 threat as the league schedule went ahead as planned this weekend, including thousands of fans packing the stands for the Minsk derby.
Belarus remains the sole country in Europe yet to cancel mass public gatherings in a bid to fight the spread of the virus, with the Belarusian Premier League kicking off as planned earlier this month in direct contrast to practically every other major football competition in the world.
With the global sporting calendar decimated by measures designed to mitigate the public health crisis, Belarus football fans nonetheless flocked to this weekend's capital derby between FC Minsk and Dinamo Minsk.
The game, which took place at FC Minsk Stadium, was played before a crowd of around 3,000 people, rendering the concept of social distancing an impossibility.
Some supporters were apparently aware of the potential dangers and wore medical masks, but the majority of fans seemed unaware of any risk.
To date, Belarus has a relatively low rate of Covid-19 cases. The first case was confirmed on February 28 with an additional 93 cases being reported in the month following.
Due to these numbers, Belarus FA head Vladimir Bazanov insisted on beginning the league schedule as planned in mid-March.
"For what reason should we not start it? Is a state of emergency declared in our country?" he said last week, as reported by by.tribuna.com. "There is no critical situation. So we decided that we are starting the championship in a timely manner. Today."
The Belarusian league's continuation in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic has won it a new following online as fans have tuned in to get their live football fix.Also on rt.com Ronaldo & Messi to play in Belarus? Star says Europe's only operating football league may attract elite
The Belarusian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has implored life to continue as normal in the country, even reportedly saying that drinking vodka and working on a farm are effective means to tackle the virus.
Belarusian former Arsenal and Barcelona star Alexander Hleb has also warned against "panic" and placed his full trust in the government.
"Our footballers are taking to the pitch without panic and are playing. Among them are many people I know, and if a real threat appears to their health, or the health of fans, I am sure that matches would be stopped," he wrote in a recent Instagram post.
As for Saturday's derby itself, it was the hosts FC Minsk who came out on top in a five-goal thriller by a score of 3-2.