MINSK – While most sporting events in the world have been suspended in response to the coronavirus, soccer and ice hockey continue to be played in Belarus.

“Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees,” said President Alexander Lukashenko, who supports the decision to keep those leagues active. In fact, in the midst of the pandemic, a new football season began.

Lukashenko even participated in an amateur ice hockey tournament on Saturday, attended by hundreds of spectators.

The Lukashenko government has refused to take emergency measures and even keeps the borders of this country of 9.5 million inhabitants open.

Belarus does not update the number of victims of the virus daily. On Friday, the last day for which figures are available, there were 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.

Lukashenko said that since sports chains have nothing to show, this is the ideal occasion to promote the Belarusian league.

“I see what happens in Russia, where some people are making a lot of money on betting because they did not know our teams before,” said Lukashenko. ‚ÄúSome lose, others win. Everything works”.

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Fans who go to stadiums receive hand sanitizer when they enter and there are doctors who take their temperature. A few wear face masks as they are not considered necessary at outdoor events, according to spokesman for the national soccer federation Alexander Aleinik.

The Belarusian league is modest. Their matches are followed by an average of 1,200 spectators and does not generate any international interest.

But their matches are being broadcast in Russia and are generating a lot of bets in Britain. Some Britons in social networks have become fans of teams, declaring themselves fans of unknown players and reproaching the tactical errors of the technicians.

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In the betting world there is not much to choose from. The Belarusian football competition is the Nicaraguan league, the Tajikistan basketball and the Russian table tennis.

Sergei Melnikov is one of those who wants to be noticed at a time when almost nothing happens in the world of sports. He is the coach of the Isloch club, which defeated Smolevichi 1-0 to stay tied on points with the league leader.

“Everyone is watching our football now,” said Melnikov. “That means we must show the best we have.”