On December 27, 2020, the much anticipated 2020/21 Nigeria Professional Football League season kicked off to the relief of fans, administrators and players after the federal government lifted the ban on sporting activities prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a condition to lifting the ban, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on October 15, 2020, insisted that all health protocols like wearing of face masks, social distancing and absence of fans in the stadiums must be observed.
Trust Sports gathered that the protocols were completely adhered to in the Match Day 1 and 2 as well as the presence of doctors, ambulances and other paramedics being present at the stadia.
However, the league organizer, League Management Company (LMC) seemed to have turned a blind eye to flagrant violation of the protocols.
In the Match Day 3 fixtures, fans were allowed into the Agege Stadium for the match between MFM and Sunshine Stars and at the Enyimba Stadium, Aba, during the tie between Enyimba and Wikki Tourists thus defying the directive of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which banned fans from stadiums last year.
This scenario has continued to play out in most centres when again on Monday in the Match Day 6 clash at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi when Enyimba and Wikki Tourists recorded victories in the doubleheader games against Adamawa United and Jigawa Golden Stars respectively.
It will also be recalled that the Nigeria Football Federation recently set up a special COVID-19 task force charged with working with the various football league bodies to monitor compliance with the protocols by all clubs at all levels of the leagues, among other responsibilities.
According to the terms of reference, the committee is to work with the various League Bodies, to monitor compliance with the COVID-19 Protocols by all the football clubs at all levels of the Leagues while putting in place an effective monitoring system to ensure compliance with COVID-19 Protocols at all League match venues amongst other duties.
It will, however, be noted that the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) has taken the guidelines very serious with the Chairperson Aisha Falode, recently announcing an additional one-month postponement of the country’s women’s topflight league in a frantic bid to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 protocols agreed before the season kicked off last December.
Falode said that the irregularities discovered during the one-week postponement of the Week-5 matches led to the decision to put the league on hold for one month.
“Feedback from the one-week suspension to allow for COVID-19 re-testing by clubs exposed flaws in complying with the NWFL directives. After due consultations, it was agreed that a further one-month period should be given to allow for due diligence by all the clubs and stakeholders for strict compliance.
“We realised that clubs were not taking enough COVID-19 protocol precautionary measures,” she said in a statement.
Speaking with the Bauchi Football Association Chairman, Patrick Pascal, he rejected the assertion that the protocols were violated in the stadium.
According to him, the people in the stadium were players, team officials from the four teams (Enyimba, Adamawa United, Jigawa Golden Stars and Wikki Tourists) who were to use the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium.
“There were four teams and they came with their contingents, so where did we break the protocols? Our stadium is 18,000 sitting capacity, it is not big and who said who broke the COVID-19 protocols.
“When you watched the match, did you see anybody sitting in the four stands in the stadium? People you saw were media, Wikki Tourists and Jigawa Golden Stars players and their contingents who were not playing during the Enyimba game. They were going to sit down around to watch.
“We are 100% compliant to the COVID-19 protocols. Have you heard of any case in Bauchi? We monitor the team every time including their training and we have tried everything possible to ensure that we adhere to the federal government directives. We test our players before every match,” he asserted.
In the same vein, the LMC Chief Operating Officer, Salihu Abubakar recently spoke to journalists said the league body would verify and sanction the erring clubs that disobey the guidelines.
“They are just reports, we will verify and let you know what we will do. We will get the reports from the match officials and when they get to us, we will know what actually happened and from there, we will know what to do.
“We are always confident that all the protocols will be observed, but in case they happen, the rules are very clear about what to do. There are sanctions in the regulations for these infractions, but let us get there first.”
Salihu also said the league body was yet to take a decision on Dakkada FC, after the club reportedly did not carry out COVID-19 tests on their players and officials before their league game against Akwa United December 28, 2019.
It was reported that Dakkada did not conduct COVID-19 tests on their players and backroom staff, thus flouting the directive of the Nigeria Football Federation that the tests were mandatory for all the clubs before each game.
The question that begs for answers is what measures have been put in place to punish clubs that have flouted the guidelines as well the plans to guard against future violation as the season plays on.