By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
The novel CoronaVirus, COVID-19, is the most mentioned word on the media landscape since the beginning of 2020. No one expected this kind of compulsory public holiday across the world which is having a cataclysmic effect on the economy.
Football as well as other sporting events are not left out of this.
Most sporting events in Nigeria has been postponed due to the outbreak of the CoronaVirus pandemic. The National Sports Festival, Nigeria version of the Olympics, that was expected to take place this year, 2020, has been postponed by the Ministry of Sports and the organizing Committee. In football, the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL, has also been postponed after Week 25, with 13 games to play. Then the Nigeria Women Premier League kick-off date halted as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Effect on Competition Structure
There might be some form of changes in the structure of competitions due to the virus and that will be depending on the number of remaining matches. For instance, for NPFL, it remains 13 games. The League Management Company, LMC, might have to look for ways through which the remaining 13 games can be played apart from Enugu Rangers and Enyimba FC that have outstanding games due to their continental assignments. Enyimba has about five outstanding games which they have to play. For the Nigeria Women Premier League, NWPL, before the eruption of COVID-19, 16 clubs have been drawn into two groups in which 14 matches were expected to be played. Due to this virus, there might be the possibility of changing the structure of the NWPL from 14 to about six or seven games based on what is on ground. COVID-19 will really affect the structure of the leagues.
Effect of COVID-19 on Sports
COVID-19 has affected sports generally in Nigeria. There has been the postponement of activities in Nigeria. Both male and female leagues in Nigeria is currently not holding due to the virus. Staying indoors due to the virus, both players and officials have to stay indoors in order to curtail the spread. Staying indoors aside from those having indoor exercises might make players to be match rusty when they resume normal duties. Some might add more weights.
Economically, it has effect because most of the players, officials, coaches, and journalists that earn their living via match reports, updates and all these can not take place because of the virus. They all have to improvise. This has an effect on the journalist, officials, administrators, sportmen, and women.
Paying players during COVID-19
For clubs in Nigeria, when it comes to coping and payment, it has to be in two faces. There are government and private-owned clubs. The way they cope during this period is quite different. Most of the football clubs in Nigeria are owned by the government while only a few are being owned by private individuals and organizations like MFM FC, FC Ifeanyi Ubah, Remo Stars, Vandrezzer FC, etc.
For government clubs, they are still paying their players in spite of the fact that there are lockdown and no football activities. This served as palliatives to players because of the current financial challenges. Most government clubs are still paying their players apart from few like Heartland FC because recently, Super Eagles goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa said that they are being owed three to four months’ salaries.
For private clubs which is like business for-profit motive, due to the current economic climate, it is very difficult for them to pay their players. A case study is Nigeria National League, NNL side, Vandrezzer FC of Akwa Ibom state that suspended the contract of all their players due to the virus because they can’t afford to continue the payment of their salary. The effect of COVID-19 is having its toll on the club. Vandrezzer FC asked all players not to expect any salary from April 2020, until they resume to business after the end of the pandemic.
Players Contracts and Transfers
Most player’s contracts are not affected by COVID-19. Federation of International Football Association, FIFA, and member associations are looking into extending player’s contracts, most especially those whose contracts are expected to expire from May. No one knows when football will resume in Nigeria because of increased cases of COVID-19 day in day out.
Voiding the League
The Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL can be voided. We have had cases of leagues being voided, canceled, or suspended across Europe like the Belgian Jupiter League, Dutch Eredivisie, etc. Three seasons ago, the NPFL was voided when Confederation of African Football, CAF gave a deadline for submission of continental representatives. The league can be voided if clubs don’t have outstanding matches. Enugu Rangers and Enyimba FC have outstanding matches. If the league is voided, Enyimba and Rangers can decide to protest and appeal that they still have a chance of catching up with league leaders, Plateau United. Clubs have to play their outstanding games before the league can be voided to have equal matches played by all clubs. For NWPL, the league might not be voided due to get fact that it is yet to kick off. Aisha Falode led NWFL Board might have to amend the league format.
Financial Aid by Federation
There has not been any form of financial palliatives from NFF as at the time of writing this report. Recently, FIFA released some funds, and NFF President, Amaju Melvin Pinnick stated categorically that the funds are to develop the game of football in Nigeria. He also said that he has it in mind to help clubs and also host communities, around Abuja so that they will be able to cope during this tough time.
Obviously, COVID-19 has had a cataclysmic effect on the society in which football is an integral part. Fans no longer have access to top-quality watches neither do they watch live games on television. Everyone misses football as a result of this pandemic.
It is hoped that when this storm is over, football fans, players, coaches, journalists, and administrators will smile and go back to their most loved game of football.
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