...Waiting Endlessly For PTF, NCDC

There is a popular sports video that hit the social media space with a bang this week. It emanated from Edo State, where the deputy governor had invited an array of football stars for a football match to commemorate his administration's victory at the polls. There was so much fanfare, so much crowd, so much fun... yet no facemasks, no social distancing... don't laugh. Mischief-makers (that is what we call those who are not in our political or social camp) were quick to wonder whether the ban on contact sports had been lifted in the country. If "Yes" why is the domestic league still in limbo? If "No" do we have any records of "disaster" emanating from that match where all COVID-19 protocols were thrown overboard? Last week, schools all over the country were given the go-ahead to resume. 

The fear exhibited by parents was borne out of the "innocence factor," that the children not conversant or at home with the daunting COVID-19 protocols were likely to resume into imminent danger. Before then, SS3 students had gone back to school to take their school certificate exams, armed with facemasks, while schools were mandated to provide sanitizers and enough water at critical points for washing of hands, etc. In Akwa Ibom, government not fully at ease with the above, ordered all the governor's aides (SSAs and SAs) to monitor and enforce the adherence to COVID-19 protocols. With the full blown opening of schools up to primary level, the task has become very challenging as thousands of students play, mingle and jostle propelled on the safety wings of the prayers of their parents. 

From the sports community, the debate that first started when markets, churches and other businesses were given the goahead to open, gathered momentum. If innocent school children can be trusted to stay safe... how much more adults footballers, administrators who are already abreast with COVID-19 protocols and the havoc caused by the pandemic worldwide? Before now, all efforts were made by the NFF, LMC, clubs to align our league with the European calendar and we succeeded, with the introduction of the abridged league. Then COVID-19 struck and all hell was let loose. In the heat of the pandemic, Europeans led in the resumption of football through tested protocol considerations that included tests, isolations and crowd alienation. Abandoned leagues were concluded, cup finals played and season's successfully concluded. Africa followed suit. The South Africans created the Bio Bubble in Gauteng. 

The Ethiopians, Zambians, Egyptians, Tanzanians... football got the go-ahead to resume. As we speak, some countries especially in Europe are considering the admission of a certain percentage of fans to make up for the lack of atmosphere and animation that the absence of fans has denied the round leather game.The ongoing French Open (Rolland Garros) is a typical example of the return of sports to normal as fans, facemasks and all are back to the terraces, a clear departure from the yawning terraces at the US Open. 

What Is Our Problem? 

Blame the NCDC, PTF I am told. I have been tempted to join those who believe that LMC, NFF, Sports Ministry have not pushed the PTF enough, have not convinced the NCDC on why the ban on contact sports should be lifted immediately.

 Why will they slack? Any reason for not pushing? Everyday, we hear of the threats by the minister on the need for clubs to be club licensing compliant before the league can start. 

The NFF President reechoes this again and again. Have we suddenly realized that if the "threat" is carried to its logical conclusion that less than six clubs would have a base to play their matches? 

Is this politically a challenge? Are we buying time to get more clubs on board? Or, is the recent seven billion naira demand by Next TV on LMC for breach of contract a threat that may scuttle the smooth commencement of the league? For the NPFL to commence in November, the PTF must lift the ban on contact sports TODAY. 

That will give the clubs the necessary four weeks minimum to start training and put the players in shape, ready for the league. Worse hit, perhaps, are the clubs in the continent, especially those who have signed as many as 10 new players and will need time for those players to jell with the older ones in the squad. Worse hit will be those teams in the continent who will need not less than 10 competitive league matches before embarking on their continental expedition. 

Pre-season preparations will not be effective enough. Worse hit will be those teams who, adhering strictly to club licensing regulations, will need to shop for alternative venues and train thereon to be able to adapt and adopt those venues as "home." What about the COVID-19 framework? Testing Quarantine, travels and accommodation, fans, journalists, referees, everything? When are we going to release all conditions and timeframe necessary to start the league? Are clubs expected to continue to maintain and pay players endlessly? This is serious and challenging. After October comes November... then December... Till next week, by His grace.

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