Alexander Hleb, the former Barcelona and Arsenal star and the best player to come from Belarus, jokingly said maybe Ronaldo and Messi will come to the Belarussian League during this world wide pandemic. He said that when the NHL had their lockout season many players from the NHL went to Russia and played in the KHL. He is jokingly hoping the same will occur now in the Belarussian League. Europa League has been suspended, the Champions League has been suspended, all major soccer leagues throughout the world have been suspended, the NHL, NBA, MLS, MLB, KHL, NCAA and more all have suspended play – but not the Belarussian League.
The league’s opening week continued to chug along as scheduled with no major setbacks. The A.B.F.F (the governing body of the Belarussian League) took some precautions, such as advising no hugging, fans and players had to wash their hands with soap, and “[t]here were a handful of thermal-imaging cameras outside Dynamo Brest’s stadium on Friday, intended to pluck out and turn away anyone showing signs of fever.”
It is not surprising that the league has not postponed any games. The country’s response to Covid-19 has been less than normal and far different than any country. Lukashenko (the President of Belarus) responded to Covid-19 questions with answers such as “Belarusians ‘do not suffer the same psychosis as those in Western Europe’ and in the country ‘no one is talking about the virus. In the villages, the tractor will heal everyone. The fields heal everyone.’”
When Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning, many sports leagues were persistent in continuing with their seasons. That is, until key players came out as positive for having the virus. Series A postponed its league after Daniele Rugani tested positive. Then, Rudy Gobert tested positive and the NBA became the first sports league in the USA to postpone its season. It took Arsenal’s head coach Mikel Arteta to be tested positive for the virus in order for the English Premier League to postpone its season as well. Is a major player testing positive for Covid-19 going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally postpone the Belarussian League? Quite possibly.
However, UEFA may be able to take this into their own hands and force the League to postpone the Belarussian League. So far, the governing bodies of the respective soccer leagues took their own initiatives to postpone their respective leagues. For example, the Football Association or FA postponed the Premier League’s season. FA is the regulating body for the Premier League. In other words, the regulating bodies have significant autonomy to regulate their respective leagues. However, each regulating body is a Member Association of UEFA . Therefore, they must follow UEFA rules and regulations.
The Executive Committee has “the power to adopt regulations and make decisions on all matters which do not fall within the legal or statutory jurisdiction of the Congress or another Organ. The Executive Committee shall manage UEFA, except to the extent that it has delegated such management, or unless such management has been delegated by the Statutes to the President or the Administration.” This is the provision that gives the Committee the power to make decisions that Congress cannot. Postponing games and competitions is one of them. All leagues could be forced to postpone games if the Committee so advised.
Of course Vladimir Bazanov (President of A.B.F.F ) could just not listen to the Executive Committee as the Member Nations are autonomous in their own right. However, that could come with many unwanted disciplinary measures. Article 52 of the UEFA Rules and Regulations give UEFA jurisdiction to hand disciplinary measures. “Disciplinary measures may be imposed for unsportsmanlike conduct, violations of the Laws of the Game, and contravention of UEFA’s Statutes, regulations, decisions and directives as shall be in force from time to time.” UEFA could impose these measures on Member Associations, i.e. A.B.F.F.. or respective teams. Some of the disciplinary measures are very severe.
Measures can include the prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions, a restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions, disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions and the withholding of revenues from a UEFA competition. Not receiving revenue from a competition is a big deal as small Member Associations and clubs in that association make much of their money through UEFA. For example, the top 48 teams in Europa Cup (the smaller brother of the Champions League) receive 2.92m Euros. Just being in the group stage of that competition is free money to clubs. For small clubs like Bate, this is a huge deal. That money could in turn be used to better the quality of the Belarussian League.
The Executive Committee may suspend the Member Association’s membership in UEFA if, in their opinion, the Member Association committed a serious breach of these Statutes or regulations or decisions made under them. If push comes to shove, Congress may exclude the Member Association from UEFA all together if the Member Association seriously breached these Statutes or a regulation or decision made under them. The decision must be supported by ¾ of Congress and at least half of the total number of Member Associations must be present. This may be difficult, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
The question then becomes should the Belarussian League wait for a Rudy Gobert moment or for UEFA to take action themselves? That is a question they must decide on their own. However, the ramifications of UEFA taking action into their own hand is just one problem which could arise. The longer the league waits to postpone its games, the more issues that could arise. That goes for all sports. Did the NBA and NHL wait too long to postpone their respective seasons? Maybe! This certainly may open a door for a negligence claim. However, that is a question for another day.