CONCACAF concerned over Nicaraguan league's continuation despite pandemic

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CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said he has no authority to intervene but is worried about player safety as the Nicaraguan leagues continue to play despite COV-19 concerns.

"It's a bit of a head-scratcher, I've got to be honest, but whatever we can do to put pressure on to ensure that the players are safe is to us paramount," he said in a Monday conference call. "From what I've seen I think this has been pushed by the government and so that's one of the things we're trying to wrap our head around."

Only the former Soviet nations of Belarus and Tajikistan, as well as Burundi and Nicaragua are still playing as world sports have all been grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Games in the Central American country went ahead last weekend, albeit behind closed doors, and the country's government has tried to maintain a sense of normality, in spite of criticism from international health and human rights organizations.

As of Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported only nine cases of COVID19 and one death in Nicaragua, although there has been skepticism on the part of international organizations about how serious the testing has been.

Only two rounds of the current regular season in Nicaragua's top division remain to be played.

CONCACAF is unable to intervene at present to stop the league, but is monitoring the situation and is concerned about players' safety.

"It's a bit disappointing to be honest," Montagliani said. "I don't know the specifics of the health issues there, but we're obviously monitoring that in terms of the impact on the players and the clubs and the impact and in terms of how they're dealing with it."

Players and coaches have also expressed worry about the situation, but are carrying out their jobs as their contracts dictate, while taking certain precautions.

"We are taking precautions, but fulfilling [our jobs] as professionals," ART Jalapa coach Angel Orellana told Colombia's Futbol de Primera on Monday. "We are afraid, panicked by what is happening in other countries. Some players protect themselves and when they score goals, the celebrations are more relaxed."

Colombian Rolando Pabon, who plays for ART Jalapa, said that players wear masks when traveling, wash their hands regularly and that there are no pre-match handshake rituals. But the game is business as usual and there is physical contact.

But the players are not happy, having agreed that the league should have been stopped weeks ago.

"All the first division players here in Nicaragua were in agreement in that [the league] shouldn't have kept going," said Pabon in an interview with RCN Radio. "A month ago the decision was made to carry on and in the end we are all workers that should fulfill our duty."

Mexican player Fernando Villalpando, who plays for first-division club Walter Ferretti, said there is no order from the government to quarantine, although many businesses have shut down on their own.

"Some places are closed, some are not," Villalpando told Medio Tiempo. "For now, all we are doing is not shaking hands before the matches. We follow the FIFA protocol and then we just don't shake hands."

Costa Rican Sebastian Barquero left his club Diriangen, where he had been on loan from Saprissa, to be close to his family. The club gave its permission.

"I told the sporting director that, really, I want to be with my family because of everything happening," Barquero told the "Getting CONCACAFed" newsletter earlier this month. "I was worried about that and made the decision that seriously, seriously, I would rather be with my family.

"God forbid something happen, but at least if it does I'd be with my family. They could take care of me if something happened to me, and I wanted to be with them."