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Femi Thomas is a player with Rangers Football Club of Enugu. He is also a happy man. Femi says that since the Nigerian Premier Football League was called off in March 2020, due to covid 19 fears, for the first time in a long while, he has spent the longest time he can remember, with his his wife and kids.
Bonding with Madam and the kids was great at first but now he is bored. These days, he either stays home or works out indoors just to stay fit. He is happy as his club has continued to pay him regularly. But he is worried as he knows of some clubs that have stopped paying wages to their players.
“I always pray to God that he should touch the heart of the state government where I work so that they can continue to pay our salaries. I thank God. We have been doing indoor training and even train on the pitch these days as things are returning to normal.”
Things aren’t looking too good for the Nigerian Premier Football League either as it has cancelled the restart of the 2019/2020 season which was abruptly brought to an end because of fears arising from the COVID19 pandemic.
In Europe, the Bundesliga, La Liga and the English Premier leagues have restarted. But it comes at a hefty price tag. In England, it will cost the English Premier League $5 million to conduct tests on the players for the season. Players will be tested twice a week. That $5m testing bill is bigger than the entire $78,000 prize money for the teams that win the Nigerian Premier Football league. Nigeria’s Sports Minister, Sunday Dare says all of the leagues 20 teams will undergo compulsory testing. He notes that for the Nigerian Premier Football League to restart, each of the 20 clubs in the league must pay N2.5m each for testing before each game.
According to Dare, “Tests will be conducted on the players and the coaches as the case may be and I don’t see us having multiple venues. We might think of centres to have all the other games.”
However, according to the Nigerian Center For Disease Control, a COVID 19 test kits costs N50,000.00.
A sports Journalist, Ferdinand Duruoha, says the Nigerian Premier Football League can not afford to continue just like European football leagues because the prize money at stake is just not worth it. The league lacks valuable sponsorship, broadcast assets and is poorly funded. The league management company has struggled to get sponsors for Nigerian Football. In order to reposition the league and make it more attractive, Ferdinand believes certain reforms must be implemented.
“The first thing to start with is infrastructure. People have argued that if there are better stadia, football will improve. The same will happen if you take players welfare into consideration. Also, the league must be on television and this motivates the players as they know scouts can see them. And when the quality of football shown on tv improves, sponsors will be attracted.”
Whatever happens, a number of things are certain. COVID 19 is real and will remain so for a while. The Nigerian Premier Football League must now balance the risk of continuing play against the cost of the health of players.
As far as Femi is concerned, clubs should take precautions and pay so their players can be tested for COVID 19 and the league can be restarted.
“It is better to be safe than sorry”, he says.
By Chima Nwankwo, content writer