MINSK, April 16: The start of the new women�s soccer season in Belarus has been delayed by fears that players have been exposed to the new coronavirus, but the men�s league shows no sign of stopping.
The women�s league was due to start its 2020 season on Thursday, but the Belarus soccer federation said on Wednesday it is now �suspended until further notice.�
The federation added that �several� players had contact with �possible carriers� of the coronavirus.
Belarus is the only country in Europe still playing professional men�s soccer games with spectators in the stands. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has opposed strict lockdown measures and even played in an ice hockey game in front of spectators last month.
�There is no basis to close down the championship,� Sports and Tourism Minister Sergei Kovalchuk said of the men�s league in an interview broadcast on Wednesday by the state Belarus 5 TV channel.
He was speaking before the announcement that the women�s league was suspended.
Attendance for men�s league games in Belarus has plummeted in recent weeks as many fans chose to stay away. Fan boycotts have been organised at the majority of the 16 top-tier clubs.
�Nowadays, the number of fans has shrunk by more than 70 per cent,� Kovalchuk said.
�No one is forcing anyone to go to the stadium. You can go, or not go.�
The Belarusian league has attracted fans from other countries in lockdown and signed new foreign TV deals with broadcasters keen to show live sports. � AP