{"code":"24921","sect":"Centroam\u00e9rica","sect_slug":"centroamerica","hits":"110","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202010\/centroamerica\/24921","link_edit":"","name":"Honduran Soccer against COVID-19","slug":"honduran-soccer-against-covid-19","info":"On September 26, the Honduran National Soccer League started playing again even though the pandemic has not abated and most teams are in financial straits. There are no fans in the stadiums, and many stadium vendors lost their income because they depended on these games. Soccer is battling a tough opponent in the pandemic.","mtag":"Culture","noun":{"html":"Allan Bu","data":{"allan-bu":{"sort":"","slug":"allan-bu","path":"allan_bu","name":"Allan Bu","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"110","pict":{"cms-image-000034617-jpg":{"feat":"1","sort":"34617","name":"cms-image-000034617.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034617.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034617.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034617-jpg","text":"<p>Olimpia and Motagua face off against each other in the semifinals of the Honduran National Soccer League. Archive photo by Mart\u00edn C\u00e1lix.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EOlimpia and Motagua face off against each other in the semifinals of the Honduran National Soccer League. Archive photo by Mart\u00edn C\u00e1lix.\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34617,"date":{"live":"2020\/10\/23"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"10","data_post_dateLive_DD":"23","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E(This article was originally published in Spanish in \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/contracorriente.red\/2020\/10\/15\/honduras-el-futbol-y-su-juego-contra-el-covid-19\/\"\u003EContra Corriente\u003C\/a\u003E.)\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cBarney\" cruised the streets around San Pedro\u2019s stadiums trying to sell tickets to the National Soccer League games. He used to make his money scalping tickets, but, since March, his income from soccer games has dried up. Now he sells personal items on social media marketplaces. The league suspended all activities on March 16 and cancelled a major 2020 tournament scheduled for April 29. When professional soccer started back up again on September 26, the country had 74,548 coronavirus cases, and experts keep repeating that, without sufficient data \u2014 a problem in Honduras and throughout Central America \u2014 there is no way to know what the stage of the pandemic Honduras is in right now.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe National Soccer League resumed play under an extensive and meticulous biosafety protocol, which includes 11 general measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A 45-page document details everything from PCR and rapid tests for players and field staff, to the number of people allowed on the bus to the stadium.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe protocol for training and practice sessions requires temperature checks and a brief interview of all participants. Teams must install hand and feet washing stations, and disinfectant gel applicators.\u00a0 Except for players and referees on the field of play, the use of face masks is mandatory at all times. The players and referees are also required to shower immediately after the game, but this is impossible in stadiums like Tocoa that don\u2019t have potable water. The protocol also provides healthy diet guidelines for players that include supplements to strengthen the immune system. Hugs to celebrate goals are prohibited, and even though players are constantly bumping into each other during the game, they must maintain social distancing during the coach's talks and the pre-game prayer.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThese rigorous measures and an empty stadium have killed Barney\u2019s ticket-scalping business. \u201cIt\u2019s hit all of us independent vendors hard. We\u2019ve been able to earn this income from game tickets for years, mostly from the Real Espa\u00f1a and Marathon games.\u201d Barney, whose short stature gave him his nickname, had to change the types of products he sells. \u201cWe have to figure out how to survive. God won\u2019t abandon us, he always provides. But it's very difficult.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBarney says that he\u2019s lost at least 40 percent of his income during the pandemic, but has been able to sell some tickets for concerts and other events. He knows people who only earn money from their work at the stadium, like selling grilled meat and gum. \u201cThey must be in debt by now. That\u2019s the way it is in this country. Some of us scratch out a living while the corrupt get even richer,\u201d he says.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EJonathan Amaya, who works with the Marathon Sports Club, says that there are eight food stalls that employ four people each in the Yankel Rosenthal Stadium alone. \u201cSelling stuff at the stadiums is the only work some people have. It\u2019s very tough for them, going so many months without earning any money,\u201d he says.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EDemanding Equal Treatment\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThree or four days before the Olimpia Sports Club, the country\u2019s most popular team, began playing games, Melbin Cerbellon, leader of Olimpia\u2019s Ultrafiel fan club, was already planning how the fan club would support its team in the stadium. \u201cUsually we do things to support Olimpia during the week before the game, but we can\u2019t do that anymore,\u201d he says.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EHe says that during the fourth round of the Clausura Tournament, they wanted to cheer on Olimpia against archrival Motagua, like the Real Espa\u00f1a fans did outside Rosenthal Stadium when their team lost 3-0 to Marathon on October 14. The leaders of the Olimpia Ultrafiel and the Motagua Revolucionarios fan clubs met with the National Police to discuss , only to be told to stay away from the stadium.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cWe had planned to hang our banners in the stadium even though we couldn't go in, and stay outside to cheer on the team, but now emergency management officials from SINAGER and the Stadium Risk Prevention Commission told us to be careful because we could be committing a crime,\u201d said Cerbell\u00f3n. The Olimpia vs. Motagua game ended in a lackluster 0-0 tie without the energizing cheers of fans in the stadium.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThere has been a ban on mass gatherings since the state of emergency was declared in March, but Cerbell\u00f3n says that \u201cwhat SINAGER told us is a joke\u201d because campaigning politicians such as Mauricio Oliva and Nasry Asfura of the National Party, and Libre Party candidate, Xiomara Castro, are given permission to hold large rallies with supporters.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn September 14, the government\u2019s Directorate of Security issued a statement prohibiting fans from gathering outside the stadiums. Anyone found there would have to show that their ID card number matched the day they were allowed to be out on the streets, according to the official lockdown schedule. \u201cThe authorities are afraid that soccer fans are going to spread the virus. This is a crazy country, but whatever, what are we going to do?\u201d said Cerbell\u00f3n.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe fan club has \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/contracorriente.red\/2020\/04\/19\/la-solidaridad-de-los-excluidos-%EF%BB%BF\/\"\u003Eassisted the community by distributing food and water\u003C\/a\u003E, and has even repaired some roofs to help out during the pandemic. \u201cSome relatives of fan club members have tested positive, but not because of anything we\u2019ve done. The disease is all around us,\u201d he says. All he asks is that they \u201cbe treated equally and given the general screening because the laws are supposed to apply to everyone.\u201d\u00a0\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECerbell\u00f3n also thinks that people should be allowed back into the stadiums because attendance never exceeds 40% capacity in Honduras, unless it\u2019s the final stage of a tournament. He\u2019s\u00a0 heard that some people are already attending games in the current round of competition.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe Revolucionarios fan club of the Motagua team issued a statement asserting their desire to support their team after such a long time, but also recognized that the danger has not passed. \u201cLet's remember that the pandemic is not over. The virus is everywhere and we\u2019re always at risk of infection. We must comply with the measures imposed by the authorities,\u201d said the statement, also urging fans to protect their families, players, and health professionals \u201cwho go out every day to save the lives of people with the coronavirus.\u201d They allege that other fan clubs have gone out and \"behaved irresponsibly by not complying with biosafety measures, and not caring whether they get infected and spread the virus at home. The statement said that \"our fan club will not hold large gatherings around the stadium or anywhere else. We will wait for better times when we can cheer on our team together.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EBeating COVID-19\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ESoccer player Luis \u201cG\u00fcicho\u201d Guzm\u00e1n will turn 41 in December. He has played for eight National League teams in Honduras and is a COVID-19 survivor. His bout with the coronavirus was the most widely reported case among Honduran sports figures.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn an interview with Contracorriente, G\u00fcicho said \u201cI thank God that He is always in control.\u201d Known for his deep faith, he said \u201cThis experience was very difficult. I\u2019m very healthy and have never been as sick as that. The doctors said that my lung capacity dropped to 50% at times. Sometimes I felt really terrible, but I never thought I was going to die. I won't deny that I was afraid.\"\u00a0\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe soccer player was sick at home for 15 days before being admitted to the Thorax Hospital in Tegucigalpa. At that time, all the treatment centers in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa were completely full of sick people. \u201cOne day, I almost died in my mother\u2019s arms. I couldn\u2019t even take three steps, and I was short of breath. I think I had the hardest time at home... I was on oxygen for five days,\u201d he recalls.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGuzman says that while he was in his hospital bed, he led four people \u201cto accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. If that was my purpose [of getting sick], then I would do it again,\u201d he says. At age 40, he still thinks about remaining active in the League. Admitted to the hospital on July 18, he stayed for 12 days until he tested negative on August 7.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EThe Soccer Clubs\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe talk in the training sessions and meetings of the soccer clubs isn\u2019t all about strategy and how to crush the \u201cenemy\u201d anymore. People now have to think about face masks, disinfectant gel and social distancing. Journalists are no longer allowed at practices, and only photographers can attend matches. Real Espa\u00f1a, a team based in San Pedro Sula, conducts PCR tests every 15 days, the requirement for every team..\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EPlayers, coaches and administrative staff are subjected to a rigorous protocol the moment they arrive at the Real Espa\u00f1a headquarters. Feet must be sanitized, gel applied, and temperatures taken. You can\u2019t take off your mask unless you\u2019re a player. Before the pandemic, all players stayed at the headquarters facility the night before a game. Now, everyone gets to the stadium on their own.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EWhile at the hotels, masks can only be removed to eat. Only 15 people are allowed on the smaller buses, and 30 on the larger ones. During the games, you can hear everything that\u2019s said on the field. \u201cIt feels weird, like you\u2019re at a training session. You expect a lot of noise at games,\u201d says Julio Aguilera, from Real Espa\u00f1a\u2019s public relations department.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EThe Economics of Soccer during a Pandemic\u00a0\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAlthough the Honduran National Soccer League is a professional league, many of its teams are borderline amateurs. Except for Olimpia and Motagua, many teams are always operating in the red. Now, COVID-19 has presented a new financial challenge for the teams. Before the start of this tournament, six teams began a \u201cstrike\u201d to demand support from the Soccer Federation and the government.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn a meeting with President Juan Orlando Hern\u00e1ndez, the teams asked to be provided with biosafety supplies, and the government approved the request. According to the M\u00e1s newspaper, the president gave each team 450,000 lempiras (less than 19,000 dollars) for health-related expenses, far short of the estimated 1,150,000 lempiras (about 47,000 dollars) needed by each team.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe clubs received a modest contribution from the global FIFA soccer federation, a billion-dollar organization that gave $3 million lempiras to each member federation. It is not known how much money went to the Honduran National Soccer League. In addition, eight teams from the league obtained a loan from the Honduran Production and Housing Bank (BANHPROVI), claiming that they didn\u2019t have the money needed to start the tournament. In a meeting with all the soccer team presidents, the government committed to securing a low-interest loan for this.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIf team income from ticket sales was small before the pandemic, now it\u2019s non-existent. Sponsorships still provide some income, but companies don\u2019t want to spend on advertising during a pandemic. Motagua lost two sponsors at the beginning of the health crisis, and those that stayed have reduced their spending.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDespite the complex economic and health circumstances brought on by the pandemic, soccer has returned to Honduras. Four rounds of the Apertura 2020 tournament have been played so far, and Honduran soccer is determined to beat COVID-19.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EHe lost 16 pounds during his illness and sometimes still feels pain in his chest, back, and legs. But he received no help from the National Soccer League while he was ill, nor from his current team, Real de Minas. Gerardo Martinez, the president of Real de Minas, only called once asking about his health. Other soccer figures like Raul Caceres and Hector Zelaya, Motagua\u2019s manager, reached out to him about his progress, said Guzman.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGuzm\u00e1n will not continue playing for the lowly Real de Minas team. After playing 18 months for them, he is still owed six weeks of salary. This is common in the National Soccer League, which has at least six teams that are behind on their payrolls. \u201cI hope they do pay me what they owe me. I spent a year-and-a-half putting my body on the line for them,\u201d he says indignantly.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EGuicho is an optimistic man even though, as of October 15, there were 85,458 confirmed cases and 2,533 deaths in Honduras due to COVID-19. \"I think that nobody is the same as they were before the pandemic. God has allowed all this to happen.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E*Translated by John Turnure\u003C\/p\u003E"}