ASHGABAT (TURKMENISTAN), April 19: Turkmenistan is rebooting its football season on Sunday, with fans flocking back to stadiums in one of the few countries yet to declare a case of coronavirus.
The reclusive Central Asian state followed other countries around the world when it suspended its eight-team league in March just three games into the season.
The national football federation cited recommendations by the health ministry and the World Health Organisation for preventing the spread of the illness.
A month later, and despite international concerns that Turkmen authorities are underplaying the threat of the virus, football is returning, with supporters only too happy to follow the action from the stands.
�Joy boosts our immunity,� joked Ashir Yusupov, a 34-year-old entrepreneur.
He said he would be watching reigning champions Altyn Asyr take on early table-toppers Kopetdag in the capital Ashgabat on Sunday.
Yusupov said he had no fear of crowded places, despite being aware of bans on sports events in other countries.
�We have no coronavirus, so why not restart our league?� he asked.
Three ex-Soviet states have bucked the global trend for suspending professional leagues: Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Belarus.
Global interest in the Belarusian league has surged on the back of its decision, while the Tajikistan�s Super Cup final earlier this month attracted a curious multi-lingual online following.
But Belarus, which has confirmed 4,779 coronavirus cases, has been strongly criticised for allowing fans to attend games.
Tajikistan has begun its season with matches held behind closed doors, even as its authoritarian government, like that of Turkmenistan, continues to insist there are no cases in the country.
Ashgabat-based Altyn Asyr, whose name translates as �Golden Age�, won the Turkmen title last year.
Victory against Kopetdag would take it top of the table, with other teams set to play on Monday. � AFP