Editorial

Lessons of football restart success in Europe

It was indeed great news, last week, as the Federal Government and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 approved the return of non-contact sports in the country.

 

Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for the big step, but we expect more than that as there should be deliberate steps to kick start the process.

 

Since sports is yet to restart in Nigeria, we expect that the authorities will learn from the good job done abroad to enable them replicate the success in the country. The successes recorded in all the countries where football league came back and ended deserve commendation.

The season ending saw Nigerian players abroad recording mixed blessings across various leagues. Winfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho lost the UCL ticket on the last day in the EPL with a 2-0 defeat suffered against Manchester United. They will play in the Europa Cup.

 

Overall stats saw Ndidi as the player with most interceptions and one of the best tacklers in the league. In France, Victor Osimhen emerged the best player of the season for his team, just as Moses Simon was best player for Nantes. We are happy that Osimhen’s great performance earned him a record-breaking deal in Italy as Napoli snapped him with 81 million Euros, which is an African transfer record.

 

Keneth Omeruo and Chigozie Awaziem were, however, relegated with Leganes and they are expected to decide either to go down with the Spanish team or seek another elite club. We recall that Odion Ighalo extended his contract with Manchester United and that was another highlight of the season ending. He is generally doing well with United still competing in the Europa League finals.

 

Sadly, another Eagles star, Alex Iwobi, is almost lost in Everton and will have to up his game under Carlo Ancelloti.

 

It is, however, disturbing that the protocols adhered to in Europe to complete the various leagues are yet to be embraced here in Nigeria by the teams, even as there is a tentative plan to restart football in September or October. As it is, COVID-19 will still be prevalent in the next two months, but we note that efforts to manage the scourge are not being replicated yet by the authorities saddled with sport here.

 

Spain, Italy, England and other top European leagues learnt from the bold initiative of the Bundesliga organisers. It was the restart in Germany that others copied and tried to create a domestic template to conclude their respective leagues.

 

UEFA and FIFA were not in support of restart, but after the move in Germany, UEFA came up with a plan to conclude its football calendar. CAF has rolled out a plan also, but basically, the federation and government of each FIFA-affiliated country will decide the way forward.

 

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and indeed the Ministry of Sports will have to double efforts at ensuring that all the protocols observed in Europe were adopted to suit the environment here at home. As the Champions League takes centre stage, there is still room for the authorities in Nigeria to learn more and fast track the restart plans.

 

The Sunday Dare-led ministry should intensify administrative efforts on how the number one sports in Nigeria, football, and other contact sports can return with a good plan towards the postponed Olympic Games, which is now slated for next year in Tokyo.

 

The successes recorded in Europe were achieved after football came back from the two-month lockdown as a result of COVID-19, which crippled virtually all aspects of different spheres of life. Fans of the game all over the world were pained that there was no live football for over eight weeks, but after the restart, it became a full dose of football on television since fans were not at the stadia. It is important to recall that league in France and Belgium did not restart.

 

We salute the bravery of the Germans to take the initiative with the German Bundesliga’s return on May 16. Not everyone gave the Germans a chance.

 

The authorities insisted that if the league failed to start, it could affect Germany’s economy and so, the Bundesliga resumed behind closed doors, becoming the first European league to restart after the coronavirus shutdown. In Nigeria, we believe it is long overdue to have a very good template for testing of athletes and training schedule for the restart.

 

Before athletes of Squash, tennis, table tennis and others in non-contact sports return, they should be tested and there should be an arrangement on how they will gradually return to training.

 

Meetings should be held to discuss the various implications of restart, including the financial aspect.

 

Football clubs and federations should commence the COVID-19 tests now as a starting point for the return of sports.

 

There is urgent need for better education on the way forward in this unusual period. Other stakeholders and fans of the game should be carried along in the restart process to further boost the collective fight against COVID-19.

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