For the time being, Belarus’ national football and hockey championships are the only top league competitions held in the world. All other tournaments at the same level were canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, which results in many football and hockey fans’ setting sights on current Belarusian matches.
The novel coronavirus that disrupted the world’s plans for many large-scale events has left its trace on sports too. So, UEFA canceled the Europe League tournament, and the 2020 European Football Championship was moved to 2021. In the United States, the NBA and NFL have stopped their matches. Similarly, organisers postponed the IIHF World Championship. And finally, the Olympic Games 2020 are to take place next year.
It is little wonder that the majority of the countries took a decision not to conduct their national or even regional competition. But Belarus, in its denial to admit risks posed by the virus, authorised holding the tournaments and allows people to attend the games at stadiums and arenas.
Such a decision seems to be confusing the athletes themselves, including the famous Belarusian football player Alyaksandr Hleb, who has never spoken against the Belarusian authorities’ actions before.
“All the world now watches the Belarusian league. Everybody should go to their television and see us,” he told the British media outlet Sun. At that, he added: “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.”
Football has always been a favourite sport for amateurs to make money on sports betting. Bets on the Belarusian Cup have been made before, despite the low rating (87 in March 2020) of Belarus in the classification of the World Association of Football Federations (FIFA). But since all other countries have postponed their tournaments, many bets are placed on the Belarusian sports.
The number of bets on Belarusian sport increased by 66% and the number of bets is 30% higher than that of last March, Tribuna.by reports. For example, the large betting company William Hill offers to make bets on Belarusian football. Interestingly, 20 football players in Minsk are currently facing legal proceedings over receiving money from bookmakers for ensuring the desired result.
While international fans bet on Belarusian football clubs, international TV channels are purchasing rights for broadcasting football and hockey championships. For the first time ever, Russia’s Match TV and Ukrainian Sport 1 are to broadcast the national football championship in Belarus. It is something new; earlier, even Belarusian channels refused to pay domestic football and hockey federations for broadcasting the matches.
According to Belarusian political analyst Artsyom Shraybman, the authorities are currently driven by two aspects: the fear of an economic crisis and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka‘s neglecting position on COVID-19.
“The communication tactics by the Belarusian authorities is aimed at calming the citizens,” he believes.
However, keeping sports active is not going along with that tactics. During Lukashenka’s rule, sports has always been an essential political tool helping to improve the country’s image. The Belarusian authorities do not shy away from investing in staging the hockey world championships and even such questionable (from the economic point of view) competitions as the European Games (2019).
Not holding off on football and hockey championships during the pandemic, Lukashenka takes a considerable risk, because the health and welfare of Belarusians are at stake. If this bet ‘loses’, it will require much more effort to ensure another ‘elegant victory’ in the upcoming presidential election.