Coronavirus: Sport in Belarus ignores crisis, with President taking part in ice hockey match

While most of the sporting world has come to a grinding halt, due to the coronavirus pandemic, sports leagues in Belarus are continuing, as if nothing is wrong.

On Sunday (NZ time), professional football and ice hockey matches were played in the former Soviet Republic, with fans - some wearing masks - inside the stadiums and restaurants serving food. 

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko played for his ice hockey team in a match in the nation's capital of Minsk, which his team won. 

A big reason why sport continues to be played there is because Lukashenko believes "there shouldn't be any panic" over the virus. 

"[Coronavirus] is just another psychosis, which will benefit some people and harm others," he said last week. "The civilised world is going nuts.

"It is absolute stupidity to close state borders. The panic can hurt us more than the virus itself."

In Belarus, there are 94 confirmed cases, which is a low figure for most countries in Europe. They only had their first positive test on March 1, while there have been no reported deaths in the nation from COVID-19.

Fans at a Belarusian football match.
Fans at a Belarusian football match. Photo credit: Getty

The Belarusian football league, which started last weekend, is the only European competition continuing with its fixtures, while matches in Nicaragua are also going ahead, according to ESPN.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Extraleague ice hockey competition is at the closing stages, with Yunost-Minsk beating Shakhter Soligorsk 5-1 in the opening match of their final series. 

Former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb - who was capped 80 times by Belarus - admits he is shocked that sports are still being played in his country.

"In Belarus, it's like no one cares," he told The Sun. "It's incredible, maybe in one week or two weeks,we will stop here.

"Maybe our president is just waiting to see what happens with the virus. Everybody here knows what's happened to Italy and Spain.

"It doesn't look good, but in our country, people in the presidential administration believe it's not as extreme as the news says.

"A lot of young people and students here think like this. I'm keeping at home with my family, but when I go out, the streets and restaurants are still busy."

The New Zealand TAB has options available to bet on Belarusian Premier League matches.