Belarus Elections: Has Football Just Felled Europe’s Last Dictator?

Europe

Since the World Health Organisation’s declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11th, almost all sport in the Western hemisphere ground to a standstill. A select few refused to bow to pressure from democracy, just in the same manner that their leagues scoffed at the absurdity of science. Belarus, which has been run since July 1994 by Alexander G. Lukashenko, was the outlier. I reported this earlier in May, during the peak of sport’s shutdown across leagues.

Accompanied by national leagues in Burundi, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Belarus was champion of a league that pivoted on scientific denial, Western boredom and authoritarian insanity.

Tonight, Mr. Lukashenko is affirming belief in political violence yet again. Soccer fans should stand beside Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: the female politician who has attracted huge crowds of supporters for weeks. Tikhanovskaya has been a verbal critic of Lukashenko’s dire national reaction to Covid-19 (mentioning, at least once, that the insanity of the President’s sports policy has caused serious consequences).

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As I have reported before, Lukashenko has many policies that are unpopular besides. They certainly run corollary to the principles of friendship, sponsorship, and Maltese-issued gambling licenses which kept sport profitable (during the pandemic now killing Belarus’ people), even when said profiteering wasn’t exactly clean.

President Lukashenko has expressed consistent support for capital punishment (by firing squad), a consistent line on torture (he likes it), a disdain for all political opposition (he beats them senseless). His fraternity with the West, jointly, severally, and obtusely, has manifested (in soft power terms) via sport. I refer to Belarus’ Premier League.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who bravely stood against the despot in presidential elections held Sunday, August 9th, has more to offer than soccer. Yet, according to exit polls, Tikhanovskaya lost, badly. State media reports that 79.7 percent of votes cast supported Lukashenko’s re-election. I’m skeptical.

As we’ve watched Belarus league matches, isn’t it time (as football fans), to switch off our television sets and show Lukashenko the red card? Shouldn’t we show our brethren in Belarus’ crowded soccer stadiums that we remain on their side, as security services assault them on the street? Reports have already reached me this evening of political violence unfolding in Minsk. They have also reached the majority of world media ready to report the spectacular of Belarus football league, and every columnist in Europe.

Water cannon, stun grenades and rounds of rubber bullets have already been used against protestors, as have more isolated incidents of assault (alongside wider efforts to discredit and intimidate). At least one instance of a police van driving directly into crowds has been reported by The Independent.

In cities besides Minsk, law enforcement officers reportedly laid down arms and crossed to the side of protesting crowds, too. As law enforcement officers have been reliably brutal in elections past, this is encouraging behavior. Shouldn’t sports broadcasters, and the army of multinationals who profited (handsomely) from Belarus league during the sports wash out of Coronavirus now speak up for Belarus’ people? It would be lovely if some at least condemned the brutality, as countless breaking channels (in both the English, and Russian language) imply that just hours after Lukashenko’s implausible victory, ordinary people (who watch soccer too) are being assaulted by a state that’s out of kilter with reality.

Tikhanovskaya’s supporters deserve an impartial referee from a sporting community that made plenty of money from Belarus’ battle with Covid-19. I’ll continue reporting as news breaks, including any input from sports companies present in Minsk, or covering the league.

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