The two sides of football restart

The massive effect of Coronavirus across the world denied lovers of the game live football for about three months. It was a tough period for all stakeholders of the game, especially the fans. Operators of football viewing centres also faced a bleak situation for the period.

The digital cable service providers also realised that those who subscribed mainly because of live football reduced their monthly subscription. There was a lockdown situation all over the world as professional athletes were forced to stay indoors just as television became boring to lovers of sports generally. There was little of interest as all scheduled competitions were either postponed or cancelled outright all over the world. Grand Slam tennis was one of such among many others.

The lockdown was a measure aimed at reducing 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 would restart in May not many took the organisers and the government of Germany seriously. All plans, meetings and decisions came through virtual communications. At that time, other top European football countries also began moves 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.

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 05 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. LaLiga 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 man of the match last weekend in the colours of Villarreal as he assisted the only goal in their encounter and recorded impressive starts overall.

This weekend, Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, both of Leicester; Alex Iwobi of Everton and Odion Ighalo of Manchester United will be on parade as the English Premier League restart takes centre stage. The biggest advantage of the restart across Europe is the live telecast of the matches. 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 stadiums across the world. Organisers of Bundesliga were blunt to state that they rushed football restart to avoid economic losses. Other leagues now in operation decided to return because of revenue from various sponsors and TV rights.

The protocol to be observed is not so easy. For example, there is a ban on spitting but during the Man City versus Arsenal English Premier League game on Wednesday night, some of the players, especially Raheem Sterling, spat repeatedly on the pitch. The players also embraced one another to celebrate each of their three goals against the Gunners, contrary to the protocol of the restart. It must however be stressed that the players and all those involved in the restart are still vulnerable to contact Coronavirus because they are still exposed to the outside world since they still go back home on a daily basis to reunite with their families.

Yes, the excitement is back but danger still looms supreme in the various leagues currently in operation. Already, there is talk about the Nigerian league coming back but the logistics are too huge for the club owners who are still struggling to pay salaries of players.

To test one player for COVID-19, the cost is N2.5m and so testing a team of 22 is about N30m. 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 implications make the restart almost impossible in Nigeria. As we welcome the restart, it is expected that all the safety guidelines should be keenly adhered to for the short period remaining to end the season. Coronavirus is real!


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