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Turkmenistan football league restarts, other Asian events join cancelled list

Referee whistles the kick-off at the start of the Turkmenistan national football championship match (Photo by IGOR SASIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Turkmenistan on Sunday joined the small handful of countries around the world to continue hosting sports events amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as its domestic football season restarted.

Elsewhere, the Vietnamese football league is eyeing a May restart. But a host of other sports events have in the last few days been cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, including Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the International Hockey Federation’s Pro League, and Indian football’s I-League.

Turkmenistan has yet to declare a case of Covid-19, although Channel News Asia reports that there is concern the country’s authorities are underplaying the threat of the virus. Turkmenistan is run by an authoritarian government led by president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a big sports fan.

The country halted its eight-team football league in March after three rounds as a precaution against the pandemic. The league restarted at the weekend with stadiums open to fans. The competition attracts small numbers of spectators – Channel News Asia reported that about 300 attended a top-of-the-table clash between reigning champions Altyn Asyr and league leaders Kopetdag, in a 20,000-capacity stadium in capital city Ashgabat.

CNA also reported that, because football is a minor sport in the country, its main sports television channel covered handball instead of Sunday’s Altyn Asyr v Kopetdag match.

Turkmenistan joins two other ex-Soviet states in continuing their football seasons – Belarus and Tajikistan. Belarusia’s authorities are allowing fans to attend matches, but Tajikistan’s are not.

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league decided on Friday to scrap its planned season-opening matches in May. The league usually opens with ‘interleague’ matches between its two conferences, the Central and Pacific leagues. The move means that NPB now plans to play 125 games this year, representing a full regular season. The interleague games would have bumped that number up to 143 games.

Vietnam Professional Football, the body that runs Vietnam’s top football leagues, has set May 15 as a tentative return date for the top-tier V.League 1. VPF said a final decision on whether play would resume would depend on advice from the Vietnamese prime minister’s office. It is not yet clear whether fans would be allowed into stadiums to watch the games.

The International Table Tennis Federation has announced a host of calendar changes. It has cancelled its World Tour events the Korea Open, on June 16-21, and the Australian Open, on June 23-28. It has also cancelled seven junior events and two para events, and postponed two other junior events. It will reschedule in 2021 the Asian, European, Latin American, Oceania, and World Singles Olympic qualification events that were scheduled for this April and May. The Paralympic qualification event scheduled for this may will also be rescheduled.

The International Hockey Federation has extended the postponement of the national team Hockey Pro League until at least July. The new league was launched in January. It had previously been suspended until May 17.

Indian football’s I-League has called off the rest of its 2019-20 season and declared Mohun Bagan the champions. The team had already won the league with four rounds to spare. The league also decided not to relegate any team to the second division this season. Mohun Bagan will receive their full complement of prize money, while the rest will be divided equally between the remaining teams.