China on Thursday announced that its economy returned to growth just as the country lifted all lockdown directives instituted as a result of Coronavirus. 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. Sport, just like many other sectors, recorded 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.
The restart is however being activated after various aspects of health protocols were strictly observed. In Nigeria, the football federation last week came out with a restart template after virtual meetings of various stakeholders in the game. The NFF decided to uphold the decision of the Nigeria Professional Football League Club Owners, as they decided to cancel the 2019/2020 football season across all tiers starting from the NPFL. It was also stated that the names of the top three clubs on the NPFL final PPG (points per game) table as at Matchday 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 likely 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 fewer than the Port Harcourt side. It was a shock that the NFF did not write 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, NPFL for the 2019/2020 season. 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. Winners of the last edition of the Aiteo Cup, Kano Pillars, will now 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 pandemic coming and so it is indeed relative to talk about fairness or sporting merit. A team like Lobi Stars were unlucky with the PPG while Enyimba are the biggest winners of the system adopted. As part of the decisions, the 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. For example, teams abroad test their players twice in one week and it is in doubt if NPFL teams could follow this style due to the financial implications.
The template provided by the NFF left many holes as the body did not advise clubs on testing and gradual training procedures. 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 clear now 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 shows that the NFF is banking on total normalcy to be in place in the next two months but that cannot be guaranteed as COVID-19 cases on a daily bases are still about 500 in the outgoing week. As we await the final word on the template rolled out by the NFF, it is important to let the clubs know the implications of football during this period. No fans, no gate takings and the players, officials must be tested at least once every week. If the new season is to return in September, decisive steps should be taken this month to put all machinery in place from August. Total normalcy is not going to be soon and so authorities should work with the COVID-19 safety template.