Whereas most football leagues suspended matches to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Burundi’s Primus League has continued playing, drawing sports-starved viewers from across the world to stream games and place bets on teams they had never heard of before. Burundi’s first case of COVID-19 was announced on April 2, and Primus League clubs and the Football Federation of Burundi (FFB) met on Sunday, April 5, to discuss the way forward.
Yet the Primus League’s presence isn’t just about satisfying football fans’ withdrawal symptoms. It’s also about Burundian players’ struggles to compete professionally due to a perpetual lack of money. The country has produced some talented footballers, and about 10 to 15 marquee players have gone on to play in Turkey, the United States, the Maghreb, and East Africa. And some coaches from Burundi have managed national teams and successful clubs in neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.
Why It Matters
The Primus League’s continuing schedule is yet another indication that Burundi’s political elite are not taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. Human Rights Watch criticized Burundi’s lack of reported cases as a “cover-up” less than a week ago, and public statements by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s spokesman that the country was safe from COVID-19 because “it is a country that puts God first” do little to allay these fears. In a way, the Primus League is an analogy for Burundi’s projected world image: professional and prosperous on the surface, but belying significant structural failings that prevent it from truly being able to compete against its regional rivals, let alone on the world stage.