Fan boycotts put Belarus soccer plan under scrutiny

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              FILE In this file photo taken on Friday, March 27, 2020, young fans of Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino react during the Belarus Championship soccer match between Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino and Belshina Bobruisk in the town of Zhodino, Belarus. Soccer fans from two clubs in Belarus say they will stop going to games because of the coronavirus. Belarus is the only nation in Europe still hosting professional soccer games with fans in the stadium. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)
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MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Soccer fans from two clubs in Belarus will boycott games because of the coronavirus, putting more scrutiny on the country’s decision to keep playing despite the outbreak.

Fans of Shakhter Soligorsk said Wednesday they will stop going to games “until the epidemiological situation allows us to return to the stands.” But they stopped short of calling for the season to be suspended.

The fans called on the national soccer federation to “draw on some courage and stop the Belarusian championship, as the rest of the world has done.”

A leading fan group at Neman Grodno earlier said its members will stop attending games and they have urged supporters for other teams to do the same.

Belarus is the only nation in Europe still hosting professional soccer games with fans in the stadium.

International players’ union FIFPro said that players in Belarus have reached out with concerns about playing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Belarus plays a calendar-year season, unlike most of Europe. It started a new season on March 19, more than a week after Europe’s top competitions had suspended their schedules.

The move has support from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and has brought the soccer league attention from foreign TV networks and international exposure on gambling websites.

Spectators at last weekend’s games were given antiseptic hand gel and some had their temperatures measured. Few wore masks.