LMC dilly-dallies as NPFL clubs flout COVID-19 protocols | Dailytrust

LMC dilly-dallies as NPFL clubs flout COVID-19 protocols

  Spectators watching the 2021 NPFL week 4 fixture between Heartland FC and Enyimba FC in Okigwe
Spectators watching the 2021 NPFL week 4 fixture between Heartland FC and Enyimba FC in Okigwe

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 COVID-19 induced ban on all sporting activities.

As a condition to lift 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 in the ongoing Nigeria Professional Football League, the protocols were completely adhered to in the Match Day 1 and 2.

This compliance was boosted by the presence of doctors, ambulances and other paramedics at the stadia.

However, as the league reaches week six, it has been observed that most, if not all the clubs have breached the laid down COVID-19 safety protocols in one way or the other.

In the Match Day 3 fixtures, fans reportedly gained access into the Agege stadium for the match between MFM and Sunshine Stars and at the Enyimba Stadium, Aba, in the tie between Enyimba and Wikki Tourists, unauthorised individuals were said to have found their way into the match venue.

This same scenario played out during the week six doubleheader decided at the Tafawa Balewa Stadium Bauchi between Adamawa United and Enyimba and host Wikki Tourists against Jigawa Golden Stars.

The first half of the match which was televised live on the Nigeria Television Authority showed the presence of fans in the stadium. These actions are no doubt flagrant violations of the laid down rules.

Interestingly, before the week six matches in Bauchi, the Nigeria Football Federation had set up a special COVID-19 task force charged with the responsibility of working with the various football league bodies to monitor compliance with the COVID-19 protocols by all clubs at all levels of the leagues, among other responsibilities.

According to the terms of reference, the committee is to put in place an effective monitoring system to ensure compliance with COVID-19 Protocols at all League match venues amongst other duties.

Sadly, it was immediately after the announcement of the birth of the COVID-19 Special Task Force that a sizable number of fans gained access into the Tafawa Balewa stadium.

While it can be seen the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) has taken the guidelines very seriously with the Chairperson Aisha Falode, recently announcing an additional one month postponement of the country’s women’s top-flight league in a frantic bid to ensure strict compliance with the COVID-19 protocols, the men’s league appears to be showing laisser-faire attitude towards the laid down health protocols.

Apart from the above mentioned violations, there are allegations that most of the clubs do not have sufficient proof of COVID-19 tests carried out on their players and officials before matches.

It is said they only claim to have done so while in actual fact, they are bypassing this essential requirement in the organisation of the matches.

In all these, the League Management Company, apart from the usual stern warning to clubs to adhere to the given health guidelines has not taken any drastic measures in terms of punishment for offenders.

There is, therefore, the general concern that if the present trend is allowed to continue, even some of the clubs that have managed to keep their fans away from the match venues would relax and begin to admit them.

However, when Trust Sports spoke to the Chairman of the Bauchi State Football Association, Patrick Pascal (MON), he denied reports that COVID-19 protocols were breached during the double-header at the ATBS Bauchi.

According to him, the people seen in the stadium were players and 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 a18,000 sitting capacity, it is not big and who said we 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 sat down to watch.

“We are 100% compliant to the COVID-19 protocols. Have you heard of any case in Bauchi? We monitor the teams 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, who 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.

On his part, the Executive Secretary of Club Owners Association, Mr. Alloy Chuwkuemeka told Trust Sports that by his observation, there has been no case of any violation of the COVID-19 protocols.

“Personally, I cannot say there are any established cases of violations. What I know for sure is that clubs are allowed to admit their reserve and feeder team players and other backroom staff.

“What we do is to ensure that they don’t sit in clusters. We make sure they maintain social distancing.

“However, as there are now suggestions that some venues are admitting unauthorised persons, we would monitor more closely the match venues with the aim of detecting offenders and reporting them for the appropriate punishment by the relevant authorities,” he said.

For now football stakeholders are waiting to see how the recently constituted COVID-19 Special Task Force would carry out its primary assignment of ensuring that clubs comply with the given safety protocols.

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