Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 May 2020

Shirtless football fans pack the stands as Belarusian football plays on amid coronavirus pandemic - in pictures

Thousands flock to games as president dismisses dangers of health crisis

As the rest of the world's sport went into lockdown to combat the coronavirus, Belarusian football remained resolutely open for business.

President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the international health crisis as a "psychosis", and refuses to follow the example of much of the globe.

And so, in stark contrast to all the leagues elsewhere, the Belarus championship ploughs on, with fans sitting side by side in the stands, and even taking off their shirts in shows of support.

The shock win by home side Mozyr over the country's top team, BATE Borisov, on Saturday was watched by several thousand fans, and screened live on Russian television.

In the capital, FK Minsk's humble ground was half full for the derby against Dinamo, fans behind both goals ending the game shirtless.

One fan, Igor, 33, said: "Even if we've turned up here, we try to self-isolate, we came by car, we wash our hands 10 times."

However, he expressed concern at the complacency displayed by some of his fellow supporters.

"It's as if they aren't aware of anything, they go here and there, they're laughing."

Special measures were put in place, including thermal cameras to check the temperature of fans as they enter stadiums that are disinfected twice a day.

Those precautions satisfied another fan, Ludmila, a 55-year-old schoolteacher who said that "people who are ill won't be here".

"We've taken all the measures recommended by the Sports Ministry. All those who are in contact with fans ... are supplied with gloves," Football Federation of Belarus spokesman Alexsandr Aleinik said.

Earlier, Vladimir Bazanov, the head of the federation, said there was no reason for not carrying on with the season.

"For what reason should we not start it? Is a state of emergency declared in our country?" he said. "There is no critical situation. So we decided that we are starting the championship in a timely manner."

He added there was no point in barring the public, as many other leagues did before they eventually suspended games altogether.

"Yes, many matches in Europe have been played without spectators. But so many fans gather around the stadium that it makes no sense to close off the game."

Bazanov said that he would see several matches himself.

"If you followed the last championship, then you know that I constantly attend matches."

Updated: March 31, 2020 02:57 PM

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