The return of football has brought a breath of fresh air for football fans in Nigeria and across the world, even as the corona virus pandemic continues to ravage the entire human space and sphere.
Players and fans alike were devastated as the pandemic brought a halt to football worldwide, but the gradual restart of leagues across Europe has brought smiles to the faces of fans who are obviously excited for the partial fulfillment of their anticipations by seeing their teams on the field of play again.
Since the suspension of football, weekends became just like every other day for football followers. The permutations and excitement leading to the weekend games quickly vanished, leaving fans to rue the corona virus outbreak.
Although football resumed in Germany two weeks ago, and is due to resume in Spain next weekend, it is the return of the English Premier League that football fans across the world are eagerly anticipating.
England’s top flight division is the most watched and followed league not only among Europe’s top five leagues, but across the globe, especially in this part of the world.
Amidst the excitement of football returning to our screens, the steady rise in COVID-19 cases in the country is a cause for alarm, and has raised a burning question with regards to the opening of various viewing centres scattered across the country. Should these viewing centres be opened to fans or shut to prevent further spread and increase of COVID-19 cases?
There is no doubt football fans in Nigeria would troop enmasse to different viewing centres across the country from June 17, being the resumption date fixed for Premier League games as stated; purposely to watch their favourite clubs, having been starved of the passion, tension and emotions that come with watching their teams go head-to -head for bragging rights, and ultimate glory.
Since COVID-19 broke out in the country four months ago, the Federal and State Governments, through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), has taken proactive steps and measures to help flatten the curve and curtail the spread of the virus.
As at the time of writing this report, Nigeria currently has 11,166 confirmed cases of the deadly disease, despite concerted effort to curb the spread of the virus; this has become a matter of urgent attention in this time of soccer rebirth. It is believed that the resumption of football would likely pose a huge threat to the efforts of the government and the NCDC, as fans would come out in their numbers and flood these viewing centres, which could possibly see a spike in the cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Recently, the Federal Government lifted the ban on religious activities in the country, albeit with strict guidelines and fans have opined that same strict guidelines could be introduced in viewing centres, even as football fans anticipate the return of the beautiful game in coming days.
Though their arguments could be valid in a way, the major concern is the probable happenings when emotions get the better of fans while watching matches. Would they be able to keep these emotions in check when arguments ensue during the games? Would they be able to follow the NCDC guidelines while watching the games? What about the operators of these centres, would they follow established guidelines and protocols, when you consider their capitalist nature? These are some of the questions that need answers before the season officially resumes.
Common Knowledge has it that, football is an emotional sport that sees some fans go at logger heads with one another in support of their teams. As these matches are going on, there is an adrenaline rush that keeps fans on their toes when their favourite teams play, and when a goal is scored, they subconsciously jump on one another’s body, shake hands, and even give hugs as they celebrate. All these reflex actions by fans during the course of celebrating a goal, is a stark contrast to the guidelines given by the NCDC in the fight against COVID-19.
Some people would also argue that majority of football lovers do not have access to Digital Satellite TV (DSTV), and even the ones that do have access, do not have constant electricity, which is why they patronize viewing centres. Even as this is true, the need to stay alive is far greater than the need to be entertained.
In as much as we are undoubtedly excited about football’s return, especially the Premier League, it is pertinent for us to know that the safety of lives is more important than the entertainment we derive from watching football, because the deadly covid-19 virus that has infected over 6.4 million and killed over 380,000 people worldwide is still very much on the rise, without a vaccine or cure.