In this New Year, the carryover of sporting events’ postponements from last year will be the main attraction. Sadly, the second wave of COVID-19 is spreading fast with uncertainties over the continuation of the football leagues across the world. Only recently, FIFA announced the cancellation of the male and female U-17 and U-20 World Cups earlier billed for this year. No doubt, many more cancellations and postponements will be announced as the year rolls by.
We are aware that the impact of the pandemic is still prevalent, the year will still witness more challenges as authorities in various sport disciplines will battle to avoid having sport grand into yet another pause in the New Year. Testing of athletes and education about strict compliance to the health protocols are very important but how the administrators will cope with these in the NPFL is another issue entirely.
The National Sports Festival suffered three postponements last year and February 14, 2021, has been fixed as yet another start date. Sports Minister Sunday Dare has said the new date is sacrosanct but more work will have to be done based on the current threat posed by the second wave of COVID-19 if the NSF is to take place. Interestingly, the Tokyo Olympic Games postponed by one year in 2020 is already here and there is need for preparations at various levels including health. Our findings revealed that there are still qualifiers yet to be decided for the Tokyo Olympics.
Boxing and wrestling are some of the sports still having outstanding qualifiers. Beyond the fight to keep sports afloat in this delicate time, we charge the ministry of sports to focus more on some sports disciplines and federations.
Swimming, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting, fencing, boxing are some of the sports begging for attention. Elite athletes, who are potential medal winners at the Olympics must be well-monitored from now and supported with their training and participation at global events across the world. Top athletes need to be motivated and primed for the huge task ahead in Tokyo. In 2021, the ministry should go hard on the federations with two factional presidents.
This cannot be allowed to continue like that if the country is targeting good results. We need peace to move forward to enable the federations to plan better and deliver results. The domestic league also deserves better packaging in the New Year. The new Chief Executive Officer of the League Management Company (LMC), Davidson Owumi, has a tough task on hand to take the league to a higher level. Our league champions should be good enough to compete well in CAF competitions. Many athletes, sports event organisers, coaching and administrators are yet to come to terms with the disappointments experienced in 2020 and to be faced with another will be a big blow.
Authorities in Nigeria should be working on the survival of sports in 2021 even with the threat posed by the pandemic. No doubt, 2020 was tragically enveloped by COVID-19 pandemic across the world as many events including the Olympic Games and Nigeria’s National Sports Festival were postponed to check the spread of the deadly virus. Somehow, sports were on pause with many notable sports personalities testing positive to the virus and so gradually, events were halted, postponed while some suffered cancellation.
However, the clever way in which sports bounced back in European countries and even in Africa was amazing but sadly, same did not manifest in Nigeria. The leagues in Germany, England, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and other top footballing nations returned with strict COVID-19 protocols. In Nigeria, the authorities failed to ‘snap out’ of the pandemic setback early enough. It is clear the country’s sports administrators cannot handle emergencies or think out of the box to take crucial decisions.
We acknowledge that nobody saw COVID-19 coming in a promising year as 2020, but the overall reaction to the effects was so poor such that the country was in a standstill even after the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 approved the restart of sports.
Some sports disciplines in Nigeria did not function all through the year and how to sustain the domestic league restart with the protocols remains a big issue. Though the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) eventually started a week ago across the nation, the PTF, the LMC and the NFF were lethargic before the return of sports. Going forward, there must be a deliberate plan to sustain sports just as the health authorities battle with the second wave of COVID-19.
The careers and daily bread of many depend on sports and so it is expected that actions be taken to keep safe and ensure sporting activities are alive. There should be constant checks and testing of the athletes and all those involved in sports. If those in other walks of life are still functioning, sports must also manage to say afloat. Billions of naira were lost with the lockdown experienced globally last year but we expect deliberate moves from relevant authorities to save sport from another huge shutdown.