While there hasn’t been much sports news recently, one little known soccer league has hit the headlines and is currently finding a new audience. This is despite most soccer fans outside of the former Soviet republic of Belarus unable to name even one of their top-flight sides. And whilst they do provide one team for the Champions League, they’re rarely a country that troubles the latter stages of the competition. However, this is changing as it is one of the few sporting bodies that are currently active.
BATE Borisov are perhaps the most recognizable team from the division, having won it 13 seasons in a row, a dynasty only broken by current reigning champions Dinamo Brest. Dinamo Minsk were the most successful side for a while, and they are now household names in European soccer having hosted rivals FC Minsk in March in a game the BBC reports as being the only match played anywhere on earth. This has given the league and the team a boost they wouldn’t have got based on tournament performances alone.
Whilst BATE did qualify for this year’s Champions League they didn’t get far. A feature by Bwin Sports reveals they weren’t amongst the qualifiers for the knockout stage; in fact, they didn’t get past the qualifying stages. They were beaten by Rosenborg in the second qualifying round, then failed to make the Europa League Group stages as well.
With no Champions League soccer currently being played, the Belarusian Premier League has continued to play no matter what, gaining more fans than ever before. In sport-mad countries such as India and Russia, they have been able to seal TV deals with sports networks to show top-flight matches. A whole new audience is becoming aware of Slutsk, Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino and Shakhtyor Soligorsk.
The division is officially known as Vysheyshaya Liga and has only been in existence since 1992, following the break up of the old Soviet Union. Dinamo Minsk won six of the first seven seasons, but since then have lifted just once and have seen FC BATE Borisov, or Borisov Automobile and Tractor Electronics to give them their full title, overtake them in terms of honors.
Few players in the current setup will be well-known to many soccer fans. One of their most famous sons is former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb, who won 80 caps for Belarus during his playing career. He had five spells with BATE Borisov, as well as stints elsewhere in the division, before ending his career as a 38-year-old in 2019 with Isloch Minsk Raion.
Players such as Stanislaw Drahun, a Belarus international, and Bosnian Bojan Nastić now have their chance to perform on the world stage, quite literally. The little-known ranks of Belarusian soccer now have the eyes of the world turned their way. With no plans to halt the league through April, some players who might not register on scouts’ notepads will have an excellent chance to shine.
In unprecedented times, sports fans will get their fix wherever they can and right now, Belarus is the soccer capital of the world.