JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 22 – Burundi are the only African country to continue playing football during the coronavirus pandemic, with the league heading toward a potentially thrilling climax.
Musongati FC drew 3-3 with Athletico Academy in midweek to close the gap behind leaders Le Messager Ngozi to three points with three rounds of the Primus Ligue remaining.
Ngozi are seeking a second title and Musongati a first, and both have two home and one away fixtures ahead with the 30-round season scheduled to finish on June 28.
While top-level football in all other African countries was suspended or cancelled by the COVID-19 outbreak, Burundi decided to carry on playing.
Spectators who saw Musongati surrender two points after conceding a late goal to Athletico in the capital city, Gitega, adhered to some anti-virus precautions, but not others.
The temperature of everyone entering the 10,000-capacity Stade Ingoma was checked and sanitiser sprayed on their hands.
But there was no social distancing in the stands and terraces with many spectators seated next to each other.
Many players also flouted behavioural guidance given to footballers, hugging each other and touching the hands of team-mates when celebrating goals.
“After consulting with the public health minister, a decision was reached to continue with the first and second division championships,” said a national football federation spokesman.
– Flocked to polling stations –
Other countries who opted to continue domestic leagues as the coronavirus claimed thousands of lives across the globe included Belarus, Nicaragua and Tajikistan.
The match in Gitega, which replaced Bujumbura as capital of the tiny, densely populated east African nation this year, marked the return of football after a break for elections.
Millions of Burundians flocked to polling stations Wednesday to choose a successor to Pierre Nkurunziza as president, and also elect parliamentarians and local councillors.
Apart from league fixtures on May 30/31 and June 20/21 and 27-28, Burundi also plan to complete the country’s FA Cup competition, which is at the semi-finals stage.
The league and cup winners will qualify for the 2020/21 CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions, which are scheduled to kick off on August 7.
The best performance by a Burundian club in a CAF competition was Vital’O reaching the 1992 final of the now defunct African Cup Winners Cup.
Vital’O were held 1-1 at home by Africa Sports of the Ivory Coast in the first leg and lost the return match 4-0 in Abidjan.