It’s Thursday. Football is gathering momentum with the return of the Spanish La Liga Santander later tonight with Sevilla taking on Real Betis. Viewing centres will begin to boom once again with fans trooping in to watch their darling teams play. It calls for celebrations and also an indication that the world is winning the war against COVID-19.
La Liga is very popular in Nigeria, but one has to admit that only Barcelona and Real Madrid drive this interest. The El Clasico will bring large gatherings in viewing centres. Non-La Liga fans will also want to go and see the battle between two giants of world football. Take those two out; the Spanish League is as dead as the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and the French Ligue 1.
In developed countries, very few people will want to go to viewing centres to watch football matches. Of course, many fans in those countries are season ticket holders. So they will also go to the stadium to watch their teams play live. Those that are not going to the stadium will watch the game in the comfort of their homes. Even in those countries, there are folks who will want to hang out with their friends over some bottle of beer or perhaps those who want to banter their rivals.
The case is different here in Nigeria. A typical viewing centre will accommodate 50 to 100 enthusiastic fans, shouting, drinking, jumping from one place to the other, arguing about who is who, what player is doing this, how the coach is a ‘twat’ for picking a particular player, what that player should have done with the ball and so many other football banters. With the increased number of COVID -19 cases in Nigeria, and government’s decision to open up the economy by relaxing the lockdown, we are in danger of sinking into that red zone.
It is very difficult to maintain any form of distancing, tempers are always flaring, a Chelsea and Arsenal fan cannot agree on any issue, except they are fighting a common enemy. Some viewing centres, football supporters sometimes are unable to hold their tempers, to a point people will fight in the viewing centre. I’ve been to a viewing centre in which a fight started and the police came, arrested everybody. Even with my identification as a journalist, I still had to pay some money before leaving the station.
The point I am trying to emphasize is that football viewing centres will be a perfect place for the spread of the coronavirus. Even if the government has placed a ban on gatherings of more than 20 persons, viewing centres will have a large number of viewers, who have been starved of football for more than three months. There is need to put strict measures in place to avoid an outbreak, Nigeria is already dealing with over 13,000 cases and it is not slowing down at the moment. If this is taken for granted, then, we are in real trouble.
It is not only in viewing centres that we may have this issue; betting shops are also at the risk of spreading the virus. Betting is very common in this part of the world. Many people do not take advantage of online betting; they prefer to go to the shops, book their bets, and hand it over to the attendant to print a ticket for them.
Bet shops in Nigeria are always overcrowded with people; most of the people are not necessarily there to bet, some people are charging their phones, some are watching football match for free, while others are just hanging out there. COVID-19 do not have legs to move, but we are the ones to take it to places, that was the main reason government and health authorities decided to lockdown the country, in order to curtail the spread of the virus.
It could have been very easy if the lockdown is still in place. Here in Akwa Ibom State, the government has decided against extending lockdown period. It was in effect between 8pm to 6pm, but the federal government extended it from 8pm to 10pm and 6am to 4am. Some football matches, for example, Manchester City vs Arsenal next Wednesday at the Etihad Stadium, will start at 8.15pm. That already has passed the lockdown period and this will be a problem.
The government and football fans should look into this and find a solution to the problem.
NPFL football podcast
Time for a podcast. We will be recording another episode of the NPFL football podcast this evening. I will be joined by Mmenyeneabasi Akpan and Godwin Antai to discuss the point per game, as one of the options on the table of League Management Company, LMC, in a bid to end the 2019/20 NPFL season.
As ever, if you have questions or topics for discussion, please forward it to The Athletic NG twitter handle @TheAthleticNG with the hashtag #NPFLFootballPodcast.
If you haven’t listen to the first episode, you can find the link here.
That’s all from me today, I will be back tomorrow with a new blog and a fresh edition of the podcast. Until then, take it easy.
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