Turkish football, basketball and volleyball leagues, which were among the last to continue playing matches, were suspended indefinitely on Thursday due to the widening coronavirus outbreak.
“Within the framework of measures taken against the coronavirus, all matches of soccer, basketball, volleyball and handball have been postponed,” Sports Minister Muharrem Kasapoglu said after meeting the heads of sports federations in Ankara.
Turkey has confirmed 191 cases and three deaths from coronavirus. Authorities had taken steps to contain the spread, including ordering sports events to be played without spectators, but had stopped short of halting matches.
Turkey had come under international pressure to postpone its competitions after the overwhelming majority of European soccer leagues, and several others globally, shut down.
On Thursday, soccer’s global players union FIFPRO said it had written to the Turkish league asking it to “urgently reconsider” its decision to continue matches and training.
“Numerous foreign players have contacted us to say they are uncomfortable continuing as #COVID19 spreads,” FIFPRO said on Twitter.
Galatasaray’s Colombian striker Radamel Falcao joined the chorus of footballers criticising the decision to continue playing. “People are dying around the world and we are talking to play football,” he said on Twitter.
Kayserispor’s Bernard Mensah also took to social media to express his frustration. “Life is the most important thing on earth … this is (a) serious thing happening and they still insist to continue do they really care about us?” the 25-year old Ghanaian posted on Twitter.
Galatasaray’s basketball players issued a joint statement saying they found it “quite bizarre” to continue playing.
John Obi Mikel left Turkish side Trabzonspor days after the former Chelsea midfielder said he did not feel comfortable with top-flight games in the country being played.
The chairman of league leaders Trabzonspor, however, said any delay to Super League matches would lead to an increase in the number of divorces.
“Football is the one thing in Turkey that allows people to get rid of their stress, to entertain themselves and to occupy their minds,” chairman Ahmet Agaoglu said, wearing a protective mask as he spoke to the media.
“If they suspend the league for a long time, in a month from now there won’t be enough judges to rule on all the divorce cases,” he added. “We are the leaders right now. Trabzonspor should be declared champions.”