Unique exceptions to the general rule in the heat of a pandemic

When the whole world of sport has stopped because of the spread of the coronavirus, in certain parts of the planet there is still surprising competition
Vysheyshaya Liga - Dynamo Brest vs Isloch Minsk - OSK Brestsky, Brest, Belarus, April 12, 2020

REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO  -   Vysheyshaya Liga - Dynamo Brest vs Isloch Minsk - OSK Brestsky, Brest, Belarus, April 12, 2020

The health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 disease has shaken the foundations of sport globally and many competitions have been suspended and postponed across the globe. But there are a few minority groups who are resisting the pandemic and continue with their competitions as if there were no serious health problem affecting everyone. The cases of Belarus, Tajikistan, Nicaragua, Taiwan and Burundi puzzle the international community and the sporting world in general because they insist on continuing to practice sport officially.  

Sporting competitions have come to a standstill at world level, but in in the above-mentioned countries matches are still being held in various disciplines, including that of the king of sports, football; thus, ignoring the indications made by international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

In this regard, it is worth noting the particularity of Taiwan, where the national government gave the green light for the normal development of the professional football tournament. Thus, both the Taiwanese Premier League and the women's league started as usual last weekend.  

Las animadoras toman fotos de grupo con mascarillas faciales debido al brote de la enfermedad coronavirus (COVID-19) en el primer partido de la liga de béisbol profesional en el Estadio Internacional de Béisbol de Taoyuan, Taiwán, el 11 de abril de 2020
REUTERS/ANN WANG - Cheerleaders take group photos with face mask on due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the first professional baseball league game at Taoyuan International baseball stadium in Taoyuan city, Taiwan, April 11, 2020

The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, had a dialectic confrontation with the Director General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who accused the Taiwanese government of orchestrating a smear campaign against him in the context of criticism of the international organization for its management of the coronavirus crisis. The president of the island state denied this, linking all the confrontation and the festering of relations (it should be remembered that Taiwan is not affiliated with the WHO) to what she understands as the subordination of international institutions, such as the WHO itself, to the power of its neighbouring giant and intimate enemy, the powerful People's Republic of China.

Tsai Ing-wen, presidenta de Taiwán
PHOTO/ZUMA - Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan

Taiwan was seen as an example of good practice in the face of the pandemic because of its effective system of constant monitoring of people quarantined by COVID-19, based on constant police control of people' location through their mobile phones, with a heavy penalty in case of violating the isolation.  

The practice of sports has continued in other parts of the world before the Asian country. Thus, in Belarus, football matches and other disciplines such as ice hockey (with a great impact in Eastern Europe) continue to be played despite criticism. The country's own president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has been the first to ignore international calls and challenge the COVID-19, as if it were a minor health problem. After playing an ice hockey game, the Belarusian president declared that he preferred to "die on his feet rather than live on his knees", alluding to the confinement of the vast majority of humanity in their homes to prevent contagion and the spread of the coronavirus.  

El presidente de Bielorrusia, Aleksandr Lukashenko, posa para una foto con los equipos después de un partido amateur de hockey sobre hielo, en Minsk, Bielorrusia, el 4 de abril de 2020
PHOTO/ANDREY POKUMEIKO/BEITA/via REUTERS - Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko poses for a photo with the teams after an amateur ice hockey match in Minsk, Belarus, on 4 April 2020

The nation once known as White Russia is the only one in Europe that has not stopped its football competition, although, incidentally, the matches are played behind closed doors to mitigate the potential impact of the COVID-19. However, on many playing fields, mannequins have been placed in the stands as 'spectator substitutes'.

Vysheyshaya Liga - Dynamo Brest vs Isloch Minsk - OSK Brestsky Stadium, Brest, Bielorrusia, 12 de abril de 2020
REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO - Vysheyshaya Liga - Dynamo Brest vs Isloch Minsk - OSK Brestsky Stadium, Brest, Belarus, April 12, 2020

The Nicaraguans, meanwhile, continue their ordinary lives, unlike the rest of the American continent. Schools and universities continue to teach in Nicaragua, there are no restrictions on entering or leaving the country, no quarantine, and the major sports leagues continue to operate, including local baseball and soccer competitions.

Estadio Arnoldo Matty Chávez, Masaya, Nicaragua, 11 de abril de 2020
REUTERS/OSWALDO RIVAS - Arnoldo Matty Chávez Stadium, Masaya, Nicaragua, 11 April 2020

In Africa, however, Burundi differs from the rest of the continent in its refusal to implement social distancing measures. The East African country's football association decided on 5 April to continue the national tournament after meeting with representatives of the 16 teams in the Burundian league. 

The federation ordered players to wash their hands before matches, not to shake hands with opponents or referees and to keep their distance when celebrating a goal. Despite these details, everything goes on as usual, just like in the second division; the public is present in the stands, although it is expected that there will be fewer of them for fear of contagion.  

Tajikistan, in Central Asia, is one of the very few nations that have yet to report a single case of COVID-19 (despite sharing a border with China, where the pandemic began). 

It was against this backdrop that the country opened its local championship on 4 April with the Tajik Supercup match between the last league champions and runners-up Istiklol and Khujand FC respectively.  

Aficionados durante el partido, algunos llevan mascarillas protectoras
REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO - Fans during the game, some wearing protective masks

The match generated unusual attention and even the Tajikistan Football Federation joked about it on their official Twitter account by posting a cartoon showing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, among others, watching a Tajik football match on television.  

On the other hand, another country like Turkmenistan announced that it will resume the competition on Sunday 19 April, according to the Turkmenistan Football Federation, which decided to halt the tournament three weeks ago because of the coronavirus.

Football and other sports have been suspended around the world on the recommendation of international health authorities, such as the WHO itself, and sporting bodies. At present, it is uncertain when the different championships may be resumed, including the European Cup, the Champions League or the Europa League, with respect to European football, for example; or the NBA and the Euroleague, to name but a few major competitions in other sports such as basketball.  

Estadio Arnoldo Matty Chávez, Masaya, Nicaragua, 11 de abril de 2020
REUTERS/OSWALDO RIVAS - Arnoldo Matty Chávez Stadium, Masaya, Nicaragua, 11 April 2020

But the countries mentioned above, which are a surprising exception, are not following the international guidelines that urge them to avoid any kind of mass gathering of people and, of course, any sporting event in order to fight against the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far left more than 119,000 dead and more than 1.9 million people diagnosed worldwide.