The impact of the coronavirus on sport has been marked, with the pandemic forcing many competitions across the world to suspend, postpone or cancel events during the last week.
However, while football across Europe’s major leagues has been put on hold either indefinitely (Italy) or until early-April at least (England, Spain, Germany and France), the Turkish Football Federation have refused to follow suit by not suspending the Super Lig.
Gameweek 26’s fixtures were held over the weekend behind closed doors, and prompted Mikel John Obi to criticise the apparent insensitivity of those in authority to continue the season.
“There is more to life than football,” the ex-Chelsea man posted on Instagram. “I do not feel comfortable and don’t want to play football in this situation.
“Everyone should be home with their families and loved ones in this critical time. [The] season should be cancelled as the world is facing such turbulent times.”
Radamel Falcao, who is on the books of Galatasaray, echoed Mikel’s thoughts in his reply to the Nigerian’s post: “You are right John. Life is more important than football", while former Chelsea star, Didier Drogba, who played for the Lions between 2013 and 2014, also acknowledged the midfielder’s “words of wisdom” on social media.
The Trabzonspor midfielder’s post came approximately 24 hours after Galatasaray’s basketball players issued a joint-statement calling on the Turkish Basketball Super League campaign to be interrupted as the pandemic continues to spread worldwide.
“We, the players of Galatasaray, would like to send our condolences to all who have lost their loved ones during the last days and weeks of this relentless virus,” their statement read.
“Having said this, we appreciate the Turkish Government has taken measures to slow down the spread of the virus however we find it quite bizarre that we keep playing, despite it being behind closed doors.
“We have seen how hesitation to take extreme action has provoked a spike in cases in neighbouring countries and believe now is the time to take extreme action.”
At the time of the aforementioned release on Friday, the number of confirmed cases in the country was below six. However, since Mikel’s post on Saturday, the number of confirmed cases in Turkey has now risen to 18.
These sportsmen are human beings, who have lives outside their various sports, and there’s little logic in letting them play on and continue to put themselves in harm’s way, particularly as coronavirus continues to infect sportsmen within the football world.
Initially, the TFF were determined to hold matches with fans in attendance but that has now been replaced with a determination to proceed behind closed doors.
On Sunday, Turkey’s interior ministry announced the closure of some recreation and entertainment places like bars and nightclubs, while gatherings involving large clusters of people have now been postponed.
Clearly, the government believe there’s a genuine risk of the virus spreading, which makes it even more insensitive that the TFF are turning a blind eye to the players’ welfare by proceeding with the domestic season.AA
The Bundesliga were keen on also continuing before eventually bowing to pressure to interrupt the league hours before Fortuna Dusseldorf hosted Paderborn on Friday.
A similar stance, to play behind closed doors, seemed to be on the cards in England until Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for Covid-19. This was followed by Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi also testing positive for the virus which prompted the league to take action.
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers also confirmed some players were showing symptoms of the virus, while Bournemouth had five members of staff self-isolate having displayed symptoms. Everton also revealed that their squad was self-isolating after a player reported symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
Must it take Super Lig players themselves to become infected for the league's organising body to act?
Despite having contracts to honour, and while the financial shortfall may be hard to bear, these are unprecedented times where money and football have to take a backseat more important things in life, a point Mikel was trying to convey.
The cases of players, coaches and staff testing positive for Covid-19 finally forced the English FA’s hand, but it shouldn’t have to get to that in Turkey for common sense to prevail.