Tajikistan's football season starts despite coronavirus fears

The Super Cup game, marking the start of the football season, saw domestic champion FC Istiklol come from behind to beat FC Khujand in Dushanbe.

FC Istiklol

FC Istiklol beat FC Khujand 2-1 in the Super Cup game on Saturday that was played in Dushanbe behind closed doors.   -  Twitter @fcistiklol_2007

Tajikistan's domestic football season kicked off on Saturday, as leagues around the world remained suspended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Super Cup game heralding the beginning of the football season took place behind closed doors, and saw perennial domestic champion FC Istiklol come from behind to beat FC Khujand 2-1 in the capital Dushanbe.

 

Tajikistan, a Central Asian state of nine million people, has yet to declare a single infection from COVID-19, which has reached over a million cases worldwide and caused more than 60,000 deaths.

Last month authorities oversaw extravagant state celebrations of the Nowruz springtime festival involving tens of thousands of people across the country.

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Strongman leader Emomali Rakhmon was seen posing with dozens of young women clad in traditional garb at a time when leaders the world over were advocating social distancing.

In the pandemic's shadow, the vast majority of football leagues around the world have been stopped over fears for players as well as spectators.

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In most cases, there are no clear plans for restarts.

Belarus, another ex-Soviet country, remains the outlier in Europe, and its league has attracted unprecedented international attention since it began with fans attending games last month.

The Tajik Super Cup tie failed to generate the same levels of social media excitement as the Belarusian league fixtures but still prompted tweets from action-starved football fans in German, English and Spanish, among other languages.

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The game itself threatened to return an upset before Istiklol, a club founded by Rakhmon's son Rustam Emomali, the current mayor of the capital Dushanbe, converted its dominance into goals and overturned an early Khujand lead.

It ended in hugs and handshakes all round as FC Istiklol players collected their winners medals and lifted the Super Cup trophy in an otherwise empty stadium.

Tajikistan is one of just two former Soviet countries that has not reported a single case of the coronavirus. The other, reclusive Turkmenistan, has already announced the suspension of its domestic league.

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