Soccer is the most-watched sport in the world. At the time of publication, nearly every league (including Juventus, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Argentina’s national team) has suspended games until further notice in light of the unfortunate coronavirus pandemic. Belarus is reportedly the only league in Europe that is still a go, rightfully infuriating those who realize the risk that holds.
“Everybody’s been training as normal, getting ready for the new season,” said Alexander Hleb, former Arsenal player and current Belarus star. “I care about my health and my family. I’m keeping to minimum contact. I won’t be going to Isloch,” he continued before he jokingly extended a warm welcome to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo a couple of days ago because the more the merrier (said no one at this time).
He and his family are now in self-isolation, according to The New York Times.
“When the NHL closed the season, a lot of ice hockey players went to Russia to play,” Hleb explained. “Maybe Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might come to the Belarus league to continue. You know? It’s the only place in Europe you can play football. At least then the people of Belarus will be happy.”
The lack of care is, in large part, due to the rhetoric around the pandemic in the region and within the league itself.
“It is a bloated psychological situation,” said Vladimir Bazanov, head of the Belarus Football Federation. “There is no critical condition, so they decided that we are starting the championship in a timely manner.”
As the rest of the sports landscape—including the 2020 Olympics—shutters momentarily to prevent further spread of the hurricane-like COVID-19, it’s only a matter of time before the entire world of fútbol does the same.
Hleb is one of the few players to openly oppose the higher-ups’ decision. His comment (which he made knowing the two Latino legends would not acquiesce) was perhaps intended to exhibit the absurdity of this all and hopefully, it works.
Messi, meanwhile, reportedly donated over $1 million towards the fight against the coronavirus.
“Health should always be first,” Messi wrote in Spanish in a recent post. “This is the time to be responsible and stay at home. Plus, it’s the perfect time to enjoy rare time with [loved ones].”