Former Arsenal and Barcelona star Alexander Hleb has tried to make light of the chaotic coronavirus situation in Belarus, suggesting Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might make a move for more playing time as the country’s president refuses to call off football.
Indeed, while the majority of governments around the world have called a halt to their sports in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, the Belarusian top tier went ahead as planned on Thursday, with Energetyk-BGU taking on BATE Borisov in a half-full stadium.
Hleb himself understands the severity of the otherwise worldwide state of emergency and has kept his family well isolated, and at first could only joke about the highly questionable decisions being made by controversial president Alexander Lukashenko.
“All the world now watches the Belarusian league,” Hleb told The Sun. “Everybody should go to their television and see us.
“When the NHL closed the season, a lot of ice hockey players went to Russia to play. 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 Belarusian Premier League is the last league in Europe not to have suspended play until the coronavirus is under control, with the Turkish Super Lig having finally seen sense on Thursday and called a halt to league action.
And while many will continue to question why Belarus are ignoring the drastic steps taken by the majority of other countries around the globe, a look at some of president Lukashenko’s recent statements regarding Covid-19 goes some way to providing an explanation.
He said: “People are working in tractors, no one is talking about the virus. In the villages, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone.”
Lukashenko is never far away from controversy it seems, having been quoted in the past saying “not everything about Hitler was bad” as well as making homophobic statements. Indeed, openly gay German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle referred to Lukashenko as “Europe’s last dictator”, to which the latter’s response was: “better to be a dictator than gay”.
Sources have claimed as recently as last Thursday that Belarus sits at at least 51 confirmed Covid-19 cases, but Lukashenko remains staunch in his assessment that “Belarusians do not suffer the same psychosis as those in Western Europe”.
Hleb, however, is taking a more cautious approach than his country’s leader, adding: “The coronavirus has closed the Champions League and the Europa League. This is good, because you have to try and stop it. UEFA have done the right thing.
“But in Belarus, it’s like no one cares. 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. They just don’t care. I care about my health and my family. I’m keeping to minimum contact.
“It’s very difficult to explain our country. All leagues have closed but we don’t seem to think it’s a problem. Why? I don’t know.”