Throughout the world, sports leagues have chosen to shut down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic as a way to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But bettors around the world have noticed there’s one notable exception: The Belarusian Premier League, where soccer teams continue to compete every weekend.

Belarusian Premier League soccer
Isloch and Neman Grodno play a Belarusian Premier League match in Minsk on March 21, 2020. (Image: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA-EFE)

That reflects the attitude of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has taken a very different tact toward the coronavirus than most world leaders.

Lukashenko Decries COVID-19 ‘Psychosis’

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and he has continued to insist that his nation doesn’t see COVID-19 as a serious issue. Belarus last reported its outbreak statistics on Friday, documenting 94 coronavirus cases and no associated deaths.

Lukashenko hasn’t ignored the pandemic entirely. He has asked citizens to practice social distancing and avoid large crowds. At the same time, he has significantly downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 in Belarus.

“It is yet another psychosis, which will benefit some people and harm others,” Lukashenko said last week, via The New York Times. “I am absolutely convinced that panic can hurt us more than the virus itself. That’s what concerns me the most.”

The Belarusian Premier League has followed the lead of its country’s government. Teams have taken some precautions, such as attempting to turn away fans that show symptoms and disinfecting stadiums twice each day. But other than those measures, it’s business as usual for the country’s 16 top-tier clubs.

BATE Borisov Dominates Belarusian Soccer

Most of those teams remain largely unknown to soccer fans worldwide. There are exceptions: BATE Borisov won 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles before Dynamo Brest took the crown for the first time last year. While hardly world-beaters, BATE has occasionally moved into the knockout stages of the Europa League, and has reached the Champions League group stage on several occasions.

Historically, Dinamo Minsk has also been a strong side, winning seven league titles and competing in the Europa League group stage twice. In other words, while the league may not be that strong overall, there is some talent in Belarusian soccer.

Perhaps that’s helped make the league palatable to fans and bettors in other countries – along with the fact that it really is the only game in town. According to a report by The Guardian, the Belarus Football Federation has been able to secure broadcasting deals with networks in 10 countries as television networks search for programming for their sports-starved audiences.

“We didn’t expect them to have a decent league over there,” Viktor Samoilenko, head of Poverkhnost Ukraine, which produces television networks in Ukraine, told The Guardian. “We didn’t know this before because we didn’t show the matches.”

Sportsbooks around the world are now offering action on the Belarusian Premier League, alongside other remaining options like esports competitions and table tennis. At FanDuel Sportsbook, bettors can even watch the games live, with in-play wagering available.

Belarusian Premier League Odds (Week 3)

  • Belshina Bobruisk (+110) vs. Gorodeya (+220)
  • Dinamo Minsk (-105) vs. Torpedo BelAZ (+290)
  • Shakhter Soligorsk (-290) vs. Neman Grodno (+700)
  • BATE Borisov (-360) vs. FC Ruh Brest (+800)
  • Dinamo Brest (-340) vs. Slavia Mozyr (+800)
  • Energetik – BGU Minsk (+175) vs. FC Minsk (+135)
  • Vitebsk (+125) vs. FC Smolevichi-STI (+220)
  • Isloch (-135) vs. Slutsk (+360)

Odds via FanDuel Sportsbook

Altogether, the Belarusian Premier League has probably earned more attention in the last two weeks than in its entire history. Some players even have hopes that the league will be able to bring in better talent with the rest of the European soccer world having stopped play.

“When the NHL closed the season, a lot of ice hockey players went to Russia to play,” former Belarusian soccer star Alexander Hleb told Fox Sports Australia. “Maybe Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might come to the Belarus league to continue.”