Mar 27, 2020 - Sports

"Europe's last dictator" won't let sports stop during coronavirus

Belarus is the only European country that is still playing soccer. Why? Because President Alexander Lukashenko, a man often referred to as "Europe's last dictator," said so.

Geography lesson: Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the east, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest.

History lesson: Belarus was part of the Soviet Union until it was dissolved in 1991. Lukashenko has been president since 1994 and has continued many Soviet-era policies.

What he's saying: The coronavirus "is just another psychosis, which will benefit some people and harm others," Lukashenko said last week. "The civilized world is going nuts. It is absolute stupidity to close state borders."

  • Instead of panicking "like those in Western Europe," he suggested having 40–50 grams of vodka daily and frequenting saunas. He also told farmers to keep working, as "tough work and a tractor can cure anything."

The state of play: The 2020 Belarusian Premier League season began March 19 as planned and games are scheduled to be played this weekend.

  • The league is benefiting financially, with TV networks in Russia and Ukraine acquiring the broadcast rights, the first time anyone from outside Belarus has done so.
Fans watch a match between FC Slutsk and Slavia Mazyr last weekend. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Images

Between the lines: Some players are concerned about their health, but the lack of confirmed coronavirus cases in Belarus (86 in a country of 10 million) appears to have kept fears at a minimum.

  • "There is no panic in the team, but surely all of us hear and see what's happening in the world and it does get in our heads," one player told ESPN.
  • "It is indeed a nice feeling that the whole world is watching. ... I'm happy to be playing while most of my colleagues around the world are killing time sitting at home."

Elsewhere ... Soccer is also still being played in Central America (Nicaragua), Africa (Burundi) and Asia (Turkmenistan and Myanmar).

Go deeper: Coronavirus disrupts sporting events around the world

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