By Julie Glass
Belarus, whose national team ranks 87th in the world and has never qualified for any major tournaments, isn’t great — but it’s the only game in town to bet on.
And thanks to President Alexander Lukashenko, a man who is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” Belarus is the only European country that is still playing soccer.
With Lukashenko insisting that his country should not “panic” like countries in Western Europe, the Belarusian Premier League’s 2020 season began last Thursday as planned, and games are scheduled to be played this weekend.
Though Lukashenko has advised citizens to observe social distancing protocols, he has also suggested the coronavirus is a “psychosis.”
“The civilized world is going nuts. It is absolute stupidity to close state borders,” Lukashenko said last week. “No one is talking about the virus. In the villages, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone.” To help combat COVID-19, Lukashenko has recommended having 40–50 grams of vodka daily, frequenting saunas and farm work.
“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,” a Belarusian Premier League 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.”
In addition to Belarus, pro soccer leagues are still active in Nicaragua, Turkmenistan, Burundi and Myanmar.