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Own Goal? Turkmenistan Restarts Soccer Season, Despite Coronavirus Pandemic

The Sports Ministry has said the decision to reopen the soccer season “pleased the army of fans.” (file photo)

As the coronavirus forces lockdowns across the world, several hundred soccer fans gathered in a stadium in Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, to attend a domestic league match.

Following a short break, Turkmenistan on April 19 rebooted its eight-team soccer league with a clash between Altyn Asyr and Kopetdag, less than a month after suspending it.

The Sports Ministry has said the decision to reopen the soccer season “pleased the army of fans” and was welcomed by players.

Turkmenistan has not officially acknowledged any coronavirus cases within its borders, and the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat said on April 16 that the authorities “may be disinclined to do so if cases were confirmed.”

Turkmenistan's government sealed off Ashgabat on March 20 without any public announcement by authorities or state media about the reasons for the closure.

RFE/RL correspondents in the capital, Ashgabat, reported in late March that people talking in public about the pandemic were being quickly whisked away by plainclothes agents.

To mark World Health Day on April 7, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was shown on state television riding a horse and biking with a small group of officials as state employees engaged in mass exercise sessions across the country.

Turkmenistan has canceled all international flights to and from the gas-rich country and closed all land borders.

With reporting by AFP and RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service
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