Football is integral to the lives of significant percentage of the Nigerian population. Our football teams, both male and female are a rallying point and a source of national pride. We obsess over the private leagues, adore footballers, and discuss their careers, their personal lives and the value they bring to their clubs. We even go as far as claiming ownership over certain players, forming factions that are loyal to one player and sustain rivalries over other players. This is why the global ban on sporting events as mandated by governments around the world was particularly brutal on Nigerians, many of whom rely on football tournaments like the EPL (English Premier League) to provide joy and distraction.
— Premier League (@premierleague) June 17, 2020
After a three month break, the EPL is returning with a new season, a decision that has been spurred not by any significant containment of the Coronavirus that necessitated a ban in the first place, but by the demands of fans across the world and the financial incentives that will come from a reboot of the league. Nigerians have welcomed this development and eagerly anticipate the first match later today. They do so because the return of the premier league coincides with efforts by the Nigerian government to ease movement restrictions as a way to restart the economy. How do these unrelated events intersect and what will the consequence be for Nigerians?
Dire, if precautionary measures aren’t put in place.
Countries like Singapore, China and Taiwan have had to close down schools and other public places after a staggered reopening of their economies led to a secondary spike in Coronavirus infections. Football is communal activity in Nigeria, and most poor and lower middle class Nigerians who cannot afford the expensive subscription fees required to access the matches from their homes will go to viewing centres to watch the match. The combination of close proximity, poor hygiene and football euphoria puts many at risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
Viewing centres, much like cinemas and concert halls are still banned from opening, and we must ask that these rules be doubly enforced during this period. Where not possible, social distancing must be observed as well as improved sanitation. It is up to the government to take charge and preempt this problem. The consequences otherwise would be too dire.