Last week, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, revealed in an interview on social media that the football body was expecting some money from FIFA and CAF as relief to cushion the effects of COVID-19 outbreak. Pinnick noted that the Federation would use the money to assist clubs to settle down when football action resumes across the country.
We expect NFF to be very prudent in the disbursement of this money already promised the clubs.
Earlier, NFF came out with a restart template after virtual meetings of various stakeholders in the game. NFF decided to uphold the decision of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Club Owners, as they decided to cancel the 2019/2020 football season across all tiers.
It was also stated that the names of the top three clubs on the NPFL final (Points Per Game) table as at Match Day 25 shall be submitted to CAF to represent Nigeria in the 2020/2021 CAF Inter-Club competitions (two slots for CAF Champions League and one slot for CAF Confederation Cup).
With the PPG system, Plateau United, currently at the top of the table, will finish top with 49 points after 25 matches with PPG points of 1.96. The battle for the second position will be between Rivers United, currently in the second position and Enyimba as they will both finish with same PPG of 1.80.
However, Enyimba played five games lesser than the Port Harcourt side.
We frown at NFF’s inability to state the names of the teams to put the matter to rest. It was also agreed that there will be no promotion to or relegation from the NPFL for the 2019/2020 season.
We believe this would have been a serious issue if not because the NNL was barely five weeks old. Other leagues cancelled were the Nigeria National League, the Nigeria Women Football League, the Nationwide League One and the Aiteo Cup.
Winner of the last edition of the Aiteo Cup, Kano Pillars, will take the second slot in the CAF Confederation Cup, joining either Rivers United or Enyimba.
The PPG is a system being used all over the world, but sadly, no one saw the COVID- 19 crisis coming and so, it is indeed neither here nor there to talk about fairness or sporting merit. Lobi Stars were unlucky with the PPG, while Enyimba are the biggest beneficiaries of the system adopted. As part of the decisions, NFF resolved that the new football season of all the leagues will start from September/ October 2020 and end May 2021, subject to the full reopening of the country and the approval of the health authorities.
The NFF, however, failed to advise teams on what to do before the restart could be fully activated. We expect NFF to use the funds being expected from international bodies to help the teams conduct tests and achieve other protocols in preparation for the new season.
Interestingly, China, last week, announced that its economy returned to growth just as the country lifted all lockdown directives instituted as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
This is happening at a time many nations across the world are still gasping for breath due to the massive effects of COVID-19 on day-to-day life in these countries. Only last week, the United States of America recorded the highest number of cases (67,400) ever in just one day.
Sports, just like many other sectors, had its share of the huge damage, but in the past weeks, football has returned in many parts of Europe, while some individual sports are also coming back gradually.
For example, teams abroad test their players twice in one week and it is a template we expect Nigeria to follow or, at least, teams should conduct the test once a week. It is disturbing that so far, NFF did not advise clubs on testing and gradual training procedures.
We note with concern that this aspect is crucial because the September/ October date given for the new season could be a mirage if all health protocols are not observed accordingly.
It is now clear that COVID- 19 will stay in the world for the next one year if not more and what should be done now is to learn how to cope with it. The current situation denotes that NFF is banking on total normalcy to have returned in the next two months, but that cannot be guaranteed as COVID-!9 new cases, last week, was still about 500 on a daily basis.
As we await the final word on the template rolled out by NFF, it is important to let the clubs know the implication of football during this period. No fans, no gate takings and the players and officials must be tested at least once every week. If the new season is to return in September, decisive steps should be taken to put all machinery in place from August.
Total normalcy is not going to be soon, but efforts to exist along with the rampaging coronavirus is what the football authorities should be working on. All those involved in the essential services at various stadia nationwide must also be involved in the health protocols in preparatory for the new season.