It may seem of secondary importance, even frivolous in these times of international pandemic and crisis, but at the back of their minds almost all football fans are pondering the same question: when will the ball start rolling again? In Argentina at least, there may be a while yet before the likes of Boca Juniors, River Plate and the rest of the nation's heavyweights take the pitch again.
Questioned on the matter this week, Sports and Tourism minister Matías Lammens made reference to the 'slipstream' theory to play down expectations of a swift return. Scientists believe that while running or undertaking other strenuous exercise carriers of Covid-19 can propel infectious droplets up to five metres, a distance that would clearly make football or any other team sport a hazard at a time when the government is pulling out all the stops to stop the spread of the pandemic.
“Football is one of the last things that will be made free,” Lammens signalled to A24. “It is tough to make accurate predictions, but in my estimation we will go all of April and May without football.”
Fortunately for the most desperate fans, and thanks to the very same phenomenon of globalisation that has proved such an obliging vector for coronavirus to spread, all is not quite lost. Those who cannot live another day without their sporting fix do have options, even if they have to cast their net rather wider than usual.
"It is positive for our football to continue playing and it is true that it is attracting the eyes of the whole world, but we have not made this decision based on commercial or economic criteria.” Sergei Zhardetski, general secretary of the Belarus Football Federation, is adamant that the ball can and will keep rolling.
The former Soviet republic is now five games into its season and shows no sign of slowing down, although some concessions have had to be made to the pandemic.
The likes of BATE Borisov, Dinamo Minsk and Dinamo Brest have been playing in front of ever-shrinking crowds as fans stay away in fear of infection. To compensate for the empty stands the latter hit upon a novel solution: an army of mannequins were dressed up in football shirts from across the world and seated to 'watch' their Belarusian Cup clash against Shakhtyor Soligorsk.
It is business as usual too in Tajikistan, where today FC Istiklol take the field looking to make it three wins from three in the Higher League and strengthen their bid for what would be a seventh straight national title.
“You can compare Istiklol with Real or Barcelona, who also dominate in their league with attractive, well-orchestrated football,” Istiklol midfielder Alisher Dzhalilov claimed. The Tajik FA has also got in on the act, releasing a cartoon which shows Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah and Robert Lewandowski tuning into the action from the Central Asian republic as their leagues continue to be paused.
Just four leagues in the world continue to hold professional football matches, with Nicaragua the sole American nation that has not shut down the activity. Just nine cases of Covid-19 had been reported as of Thursday evening, a number so miniscule (almost one tenth of the infections suffered in neighbour Costa Rica) as to invite instant suspicion. President Daniel Ortega had not been seen in public for a month before suddenly re-appearing on Wednesday and government measures to stop the spread are almost non-existent, meaning football continues amid an atmosphere of near-universal uncertainty and suspicion.
A ban on supporters in the stands is the only nod to the health crisis, although FA spokesmen and club chiefs insist that measures are being taken by players to avoid infection. The players themselves, meanwhile, seem aware that they are living through a surreal situation.
“We do what we can,” Club Deportivo Walter Ferretti defender René Huete told Minuto Uno. “As sportsmen we want to win at any cost, but as soon as the game finishes we face cruel reality again and we are scared something could happen. It is our job, we need the money and if we don't play there are consequences.”
There have been sporadic protests against the league continuing from players but they continue to fall on deaf ears: in Nicaragua, as in Belarus and Tajikistan, the show simply must go on.