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Before Nigeria joins the football restart craze…

It is no news that the effect of coronavirus outbreak across the world denied lovers of football the opportunity of watching actions in the round leather game for about three months. It was a tough period for all stakeholders of the game, especially the fans. We are aware of the lockdown situation all over the world as professional athletes were forced to stay indoors just as television became boring to lovers of sports generally.

The lockdown was, however, a measure aimed at curtailing the spread of COVID-19. Funny enough, the situation is yet to completely abate before moves began on ways to regain normalcy in sports, especially football. When Germany insisted that the Bundesliga will restart in May. Not many took the organisers and the government of Germany seriously.

All plans, meetings and decisions came through virtual communication. At that time, other top European football countries took steps on the possibilities of a restart. In France, it was decided that the league should end and the current team on top, PSG, were crowned champions.

With the two templates of a restart or cancellation on the cards, the decision taken in Germany was also endorsed by many top countries like England, Italy and Spain. However, there are talks about Nigerian league coming back, but the logistics are too huge for the club owners who are still struggling to pay salaries of players. How many clubs can afford such money? The test is also expected to take place on a regular basis for all the main actors involved in the league. The cost implication makes the restart almost impossible in Nigeria.

Till date, many of the elite clubs in the country still owe players’ salaries and bonuses. Some also reduced the salaries of players because of the effects of COVID-19. As we welcome the restart in other parts of the world, we insist that all stakeholders should still be on guard against the deadly virus, which is still prevalent. In fact, the cases being recorded in Nigeria are getting higher and it was no surprise that the plan to have churches and mosques resume last weekend was cancelled in Lagos State.

The committee set up to look into the modalities to stage the postponed National Sports Festival (Edo 2020) submitted its report last week and the ministry is studying it with October date on the cards. Curiosly, there seems to be desperation of sort over the restart of the Nigeria Professional Football League.

But, as stated earlier, this might be difficult, most importantly because of the logistics, especially the money, involved. We advise that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the League Management Company (LMC) should end the season and crown the current leaders to save cost and to further reduce the risk of anyone contacting the virus if the season is back as being experienced in Europe. The Bundesliga started with matches behind closed doors as players and officials were tested three times each before the restart. Taiwo Awoniyi became the first Nigerian to register a goal in the restart in the colours of Mainz FC against Augsburg and, only last week, the same player was involved in a collision in the match against Cologne and was luckily saved by the referee who applied first aid on the pitch.

The La Liga took off in Spain with many Nigerians on parade. Ramon Azeez was amazing for Granada in the encounter against Real Betis. He assisted the opener with a solo run in the match, which ended 2-2. Samuel Chukwueze was voted player of the match last weekend in the colours of Villareal as he assisted the only goal in the encounter and recorded impressive start overall. Only at the weekend, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho both of Leicester, Alex Iwobi of Everton and Odion Ighalo of Manchester United were in action as the English Premier League restart took centre stage.

The biggest advantage of the restart across Europe is the live telecast of the matches, which incidentally is not prevalent in Nigeria. Players cannot enjoy action without fans in the stands, just as many fans are angry that the protocols of COVID-19 denied them access to stadium across the world.

Organisers of Bundesliga were blunt to state that they rushed football restart to avoid economic loss. Other leagues now in operation decided to return because of revenue from various sponsors and TV rights. It is ridiculous that the domestic league is not on television as many of the players making waves in the league are not known in Nigeria. We acknowledge that even though the excitement is back, danger still looms in the various leagues currently in session and so, we advise that Nigeria should not jump at a restart without proper evaluation of all the elements involved. The Minister of Sports Sunday Dare, should be bold enough to curb elements of desperation by any of the sport federations on the restart initiative. We insist that administrators in Nigeria should be ready to embrace all the protocols teams abroad adhered to in order to make the restart a reality. There must be no half measures, especially with this issue that involves human life.

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