Istanbul (AFP) – Turkey’s decision to call a halt to its football season due to the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday means the sport has now been suspended in all of Europe, and practically the entire world, with Australia the exception.
Despite the government in Ankara closing its land borders with Greece and Bulgaria, suspending air links with 20 countries and closing schools across the country, the Super Lig season had looked set to carry on behind closed doors.
However, with three people having died and almost 200 cases reported in Turkey, the country’s sports minister said on Thursday that the football season would stop after the Turkish Football Federation came under fire for insisting games go ahead.
«All football activities in Turkey have been suspended until further notice because of the continuous spread of coronavirus,» said a statement from the TFF.
After their 0-0 derby draw with Istanbul rivals Besiktas behind closed doors last Sunday, Galatasaray players and staff hit out at what they called «a shameful evening».
«They took the decision to play behind closed doors,» said Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. «But what about the players? Do our lives not matter?»
The club’s coach Fatih Terim added: «All the leading leagues around the world have been suspended. The truth is that this is about our lives. Everyone’s life is in danger.»
Sports daily Fanatik reported that Besiktas had to persuade two of their foreign players — French forward Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and the American Tyler Boyd — to come to training on Monday.
– Obi Mikel leaves –
Meanwhile, former Nigeria international John Obi Mikel, once of Chelsea, quit Trabzonspor after saying he did not want to play on as the virus spread worldwide.
«There is more to life than football. I do not feel comfortable and don’t want to play football in this situation,» Obi Mikel wrote on Instagram.
Back in his homeland, the Nigerian season had been going on, with matches played on Wednesday, but the Nigerian Football Federation has now shut down all activities for at least the next four weeks.
Action in Argentina, Mexico and Russia has stopped in the last couple of days too, with all sporting fixtures in Russia off until April 10.
– ‘Right thing to keep going’ –
However, there is set to be some soccer played this weekend, in Australia’s A-League, where fixtures are scheduled to go on, albeit behind closed doors.
Australia is far from immune to the virus, and has sealed its borders, banning entry to anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident from Friday evening, with more than 700 cases confirmed.
Despite that, the season continues, with leaders Sydney FC preparing for a derby against Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday.
«I think if the league can continue then it’s probably the right thing to keep going but how long we’ll go for will be determined by factors we cannot control,» said former Socceroo and now TV pundit, Robbie Slater.
«We’re directed by and following what the government is doing and we have to adhere to what they’re saying. We need to realise that we can’t think normally in these circumstances — we’ve got to adapt to what’s happening.»
For now that means the A-League’s one team from New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix, are having to relocate to Australia for the rest of the season — which has six rounds left — and undergo a 14-day quarantine.
All their players have decided to come, including the Mexican Ulises Davila, who has opted to stay and complete the season rather than going back home to see his wife who has just given birth.