The prevailing situation across the globe in the wake of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic has rendered the entire sporting calendar orderless. A palpable feeling of chaos and uncertainty has enveloped many footballing, nay sporting organisations having been confronted with questions on whether or not to see their season’s calendar run its course.
While the current tide seem unprecedented to many, it has the outlook of “Oh! We’ve been there before” for the country’s elite league, Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) which only two years ago called off the season after months of internal turmoil which affected all footballing activities in Nigeria.
READ: NPFL 2018 Discontinuation; Was there a choice?
This time, any decision to call off the season would hardly raise such eyebrows as it did in 2018 because same thought process had seen the light of the day in many countries in Africa and Europe, including some of the prominent leagues of the world like, France and The Netherlands.
However, like a beauteous Southern masquerade which turns out in its compelling splendour when least expected, the NPFL has elected to take the seemingly more difficult stance of concluding the 2019/20 league season depending on which format would be most suitable to achieve such stance “when things return to normal” in the country.
I digress; in a way not dissimilar to the Nigerian social system, covid-19 has evolved in Nigeria in an incalculable and pattern-less manner, making it extremely difficult for serious projections into very sensitive adventures such as the conclusion of the league season. It is hard to say which phase of the pandemic the country is in at the moment and even harder to say which phase it would be in the next thirty days.
Numbers of positive cases keep rising on a daily basis but in paradoxical moves, governments both at state and federal levels keep relaxing lockdown measures ostensibly put in place to check the spread of the dreaded virus.
In Nigeria, Chairman of the League Management Company (LMC) , Shehu Dikko made an auspicious TV appearance on Monday (May 25) to address some of the uncertainties in the minds of stakeholders of the league. The keynote of his appearance can be found here.
It must however be stressed that Dikko’s propositions adequately left the door open to any eventuality – which include still calling off the league – even if one was deemed ‘most feasible’ but as reactions continue to trail Monday’s event, it is important to provide further answers which should be continually checked in order to remove any doubts or thoughts of bias from the minds of all.
What options are available?
The media; both mainstream and social media has been inundated with reactions and deliberations to what Dikko termed the “most feasible option” out of the four options he outlined while featuring on that TV interview on Monday. While it is not incorrect to do so, it is also pertinent to note that all other options are neither off the table nor out of range.
While the option of completing the season (round robin format for 13 remaining match days) as it would be as in normal circumstances looks largely implausible, it remains one of the four options which have been deliberated upon without any foreclosure in terms of possibilities. There is also a second option of having all twenty teams converge in a state with up to three facilities with thorough tests conducted on players and officials while the facilities must have been disinfected properly. It is an option.
The third option and the mostly debated one could see the top six teams converge for a season-ending playoff to determine the eventual winner and the country’s continental representatives for next season’s inter-club competitions. Completing the sides of the square is one that has been advocated for by neutrals before now, which is for the league to be ended with continental places allotted based on the last placement on the log before the indefinite break.
The PPG and WPPG phenomenon
Football, as a unique sport has its way of throwing up new modules of real problem solving due to its unrivalled dynamism among all sports. Before the chaotic situation encountered this year, there have been diverse ways of bringing about fairness in providing solutions to footballing conundrums.
The current pandemic will best be remembered for the Points Per Game (PPG) and Weighted Points Per Game (WPPG) phenomenon which most leagues that cannot conclude their pre-agreed schedule are employing with a view to bringing all teams in the league at par while engendering sporting merits and fairness; the hallmark of the game.
Simply put, the PPG is a division of the total number of points accrued by a team (at the point of discontinuity) by the number of games played by the team. The little more complex WPGG on its own is the division of points garnered in home matches by the number of games played at home, multiplied by 19 to give (a). Then, the division of points secured at away matches by number of away games, multiplied by 19 to give (b). Total WPPG is thus (a) + (b). Head to head results is then used in the case of a tie. Who says football is no mathematics?
The essence of these two derivatives is fairness and equity in delivering what each team truly deserves from a sporting and logical perspective. While the PPG balances the disparity in the number of games played by each team – with emphasis on Enyimba with five games outstanding -, the WPPG seeks to go into further details by rewarding victories earned by teams in home and away games accordingly.
It is quite interesting to note (according to the tables above) that the Top Six teams in both scenarios are the same, meaning that both in simplistic and convoluted terms, justice is most likely to be dispensed fairly using this phenomenon. It is also to be noted that should option 4; ending the league outrightly as being unsurprisingly clamoured for by Plateau United head coach Abdu Maikaba be utilised, these tables would act as decider.
The constantly overlooked details
In most, if not all conversations and discussions that have ensued after the projections made by Dikko, a very important aspect of it has been ignored. This is the clause mentioned earlier in this article; “when things return to normal” in the country. Football cannot be played in the current situation, a well known fact. The question then is; when will things return to normal?
This constantly overlooked detail has made debaters not properly take into account the fact that any of these four (or in a more realistic sense, last three) propositions is quite possible and up for adoption. As of today, May 28, 2020, there are lockdowns in some states of the country, there is a nationwide curfew from 8pm to 6am and more importantly, there is a ban on inter-state movement across the 36 states and FCT.
To put in proper perspective; if, say for instance, everything returns to normal on Monday June the 1st (which would indeed take some Gate of Samaria miracle), clubs will need to call their players to training for the rest of the week. Upon arrival, tests will be done, possible quarantining measures taken within two weeks, then light training in obedience to social distancing rules follows. The month of June taken care of.
It is then pertinent to note that the more we do not defer to the “when things return to normal” clause, the more we lose ourselves in the realm of fantasies. A number of players are already picturing themselves playing inside a newly refurbished stadium which has had talks of having first class facilities installed in it. Fans and journalists have been strategising on how to watch Abdu Maikaba’s well-oiled side and a first hand glimpse of Ibrahim Olawoyin’s brilliance on the pitch. All these could yet amount to Daniela’s lustful and ultimately futile fantasies towards Hernan Darió in the popular series Way To Paradise if “things do not return to normal” as soon as it could.
Conclusively, the second and third option which would require teams to gather at a neutral venue (state) will also not happen by mere wishful thinking. Planning for logistics which this time should take a more complex process given the covid-19 tests for players and officials would require the cooperation of all key actors, beyond the LMC alone. With states waking up to the ‘real life’ on the economic front after this global pandemic, it remains to be seen which among the states would be ready to provide financial and infrastructural support in a substantial form to ensure these plans see the light of the day.
Nigeria’s Sports Minister Sunday Dare has been vocal about the league’s resumption both in virtual meetings with the organisers and in the media in recent weeks. It will be of benefit to all if Mr Dare’s enthusiasm is followed by tangible financial and logistical interventions from the Federal Government for the organisers given the peculiarities of these times and season. Every man must face the incoming scenario with utmost realism which entails a quick return from dreamland to embrace the huge task that lies ahead.