Fury grows as Turkish leagues play on amid outbreak

Turkey’s sports minister is meeting on Thursday with soccer, basketball and volleyball federations to discuss a widening coronavirus outbreak after players and coaches criticised the decision to continue playing matches.

Turkey has confirmed 191 cases and two deaths from the virus. It has taken several steps to contain the spread including travel restrictions, ordering sports events to be played without spectators and banning mass prayers until further notice.

On Wednesday the government ramped up measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but President Tayyip Erdogan stopped short of pausing sports leagues as some expected.

The overwhelming majority of European soccer leagues, and several others globally, have shut down.

Earlier this week, Turkey’s Football Federation chairman Nihat Ozdemir said: “We will continue to play all games without fans until the end of April.” He is among those meeting the sports minister on Thursday.

On Thursday, soccer’s global players union FIFPRO said it had written to the Turkish league asking it to “urgently reconsider” its decision to continue matches and training.

“Numerous foreign players have contacted us to say they are uncomfortable continuing as #COVID19 spreads,” FIFPRO said on Twitter.

Galatasaray’s Colombian striker Radamel Falcao joined the chorus of footballers criticising the decision to continue playing.

“People are dying around the world and we are talking to play football,” he said on Twitter.

Kayserispor’s Bernard Mensah also took to social media to express his frustration.

“Life is the most important thing on earth … this is (a) serious thing happening and they still insist to continue do they really care about us?” the 25-year old Ghanaian posted on Twitter.

Galatasaray’s basketball players issued a joint statement saying they found it “quite bizarre” that they continued playing.

John Obi Mikel left Turkish side Trabzonspor days after the former Chelsea midfielder said he did not feel comfortable with top-flight games in the country being played.

The chairman of league leaders Trabzonspor, however, said any delay to Super League matches would lead to an increase in the number of divorces.

“Football is the one thing in Turkey that allows people to get rid of their stress, to entertain themselves and to occupy their minds,” chairman Ahmet Agaoglu said, wearing a protective mask as he spoke to the media.

“If they suspend the league for a long time, in a month from now there won’t be enough judges to rule on all the divorce cases,” he added.

“We are the leaders right now. Trabzonspor should be declared champions.”

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