Contrary to widespread reports, the Federal Government has clarified that restrictions on contact sports, including football, remain in place putting paid to hopes of an imminent return of professional football in Nigeria.
The PTF last week released guidelines for the phase three of eased lockdown which granted permission for resumption of “sporting leagues” without fans, which many interpreted as green lighting the return of football.
“Restriction is removed on outdoor communal (non-contact) sports and use of recreational parks for supervised physical exercise; and sporting leagues to resume with no fans in stadiums and with necessary NPIs to be directed by the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development and the NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control),” the guideline stated.
However, National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Dr Sani Aliyu, explained at a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday, that the guidelines covered only non-contact sports while restrictions on contact sports remain in place.
“I’m a football fan, but sadly, we have not allowed contact sports at the moment,” Dr Aliyu clarified.
“We have only allowed non-contact sports, and so, football is not included.
“All those football fans, it’s not yet time, but we are looking at this, and we will continue relaxing when the time comes and it is safe to do so,” Aliyu said.
The development is sure to throw a spanner in the works for Nigeria Professional Football League clubs who had on the strength of the earlier guidelines, reconvened players and started preparations for preseason training in anticipation of the new season.
The Nigeria Football Federation had set September/October kick off date for the 2020-21 season for all domestic leagues but that appears unlikely in light of recent developments.
The League Management Company, organisers of the NPFL, had primed clubs to start preparations ahead of the new season by providing a schedule for clubs to fulfil their licensing obligations, a prerequisite for participating in the incoming season.
It is not clear if the PTF’s stance materially affects the LMC’s preparations for the 2020-21 season but the Sports Ministry has already warned that clubs which fail to adhere to the licencing demands will not be allowed to compete in the league whenever it kicks off.