Burundi football finally bows to coronavirus pressure, suspends domestic competitions

The Burundi Football Federation has announced the temporary suspension of the country's domestic football in light of the coronavirus pandemic, signalling the complete shutdown of local competition across Africa.

Since March 30, Burundi had been the only African nation -- and one of only five across the world -- to have continued running domestic competitions despite the increasing encroachment of COVID-19, but the federation (FFB) confirmed in a statement released on Monday, and seen by ESPN, that it was suspending local football.

However, the federation remains confident that it will resume and wrap up domestic competitions before the end of May.

"In its meeting on Apr. 12 2020, the executive committee of the FFB analysed the state of the progress of national competitions, from which two qualifiers will be put forward for the international competitions, the CAF Champions League and the Confederation Cup," FFB said in the statement.

"In terms of the leading competitions, the executive committee declare themselves satisfied, looking at the outstanding matches, that the deadline of May 30 will be respected.

"It's been decided to rearrange the calendars in respect of this date, a rearrangement which will also recognise other ongoing national activities and which will determine some of the states of the competitions."

Burundi on Apr. 1 announced its first two cases of the coronavirus, but football continued unabated across the past two weekends despite a subsequent spread within the nation's population.

"An ad hoc commission has been put in place to study the practical modalities of the implementation of all of the Ministry of Public Health's recommendations regarding COVID-19 during this period of reorganisation," the statement concluded.

The President's Cup quarterfinals took place across the Central African country over the Easter weekend, with hand-washing provisions and the taking of supporters' temperature outside stadiums being the only acknowledgement of the ongoing pandemic.

"It's the right measure [to take] from the point where other positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed," Liliane Nshimirimana, president of the Association of Sports Journalists in Burundi, told ESPN.

"It's good to take other measures towards the reduction of the contamination of this pandemic.

"We know that when there are matches, the stadiums are full."

In the domestic top flight, in which there are three matches still to play, Le Messager Ngozi are four points ahead of Musongati having played a game more than their nearest title rivals -- the only side who can still catch them in the race for the championship.

Musongati have also reached the finals of the President's Cup, which will supply Burundi's qualifiers for the Caf Confederation Cup.

Beyond the coronavirus pandemic, Burundi will also need to negotiate the use of stadiums =- many of which are state property, and which are due to be used during the upcoming general election scheduled for May 20.

"All of the three final matches will be played at the same moment, but to do this they need lots of stadiums to be available," Burundi national team goalkeeper Justin Ndikumana told ESPN.

"A problem [the federation] now have is that the elections are approaching, and the presidential campaign will begin in a few weeks.

"The federation don't have many stadiums; many in the country were build by the population, the community work, so they don't belong to FFB.

"They need to see which stadiums will be available, and will they be enough to host the three final matches at the same time."