The 2019/2020 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season was first halted in March after matchday 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then officially called off in July. Points-per-game (PPG) was used to determine the final table while promotion and relegation were cancelled due to the special circumstances this year.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the end of the season, with a tragic turn as well when Nasarawa United defender Chineme Martins collapsed on the pitch during a game against Katsina United on 8th March, and subsequently passed away in hospital.
Rivers United, who finished third in the table based on the PPG method used by the league, have protested against this, since it left them outside the qualification spots for next season’s Champions League. The club has threatened to take the matter to FIFA.
They were not the only team to be aggrieved at the manner in which the season was ended, with Lobi Stars also registering their displeasure, stating that it favoured Enyimba, who had played five matches less when the season was called off. Lobi were third in the table, but were overtaken by Rivers United on a PPG basis when the final table was calculated.
While the football season was suspended in the country, there was quite a spike in the popularity of esports. Sports has always been popular in the country, and so when live sporting action was suspended, it was no surprise to see that the attention turned to the next-best thing: esports. People were playing esports much more than before, but they were also watching esports streams, and those who play live casino online were even betting on esports matches, as sports betting providers offered odds on them in the absence of live sports action.
Looking back at the NPFL season, Plateau United led the table, but their dream to finish as champions was cancelled with just 13 matches to go. This was a necessary decision, as other than the obvious health risks, there were financial implications as well.
Most of the clubs in the league are sponsored by their respective state governments, and so they were occupied with handling the ongoing pandemic. This left clubs in a dire financial situation, and so the decision to first suspend and then cancel the season was completely justified. However, this has not gone down well to some who felt the reputation of the country’s elite league is being tainted, as it is the second time in recent seasons that the league has not been completed. The 2018 season had to be suspended after 24 rounds, while in 2019, the league had to run with 24 teams, and thus a mini-league was run later to determine the winner.
The clubs will be receiving a boost from FIFA and other sponsors in the form of financial assistance to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which should help them improve their squads as well as cope with their regular operations. Plateau United and Enyimba have been the two sides which have brought in the most players in the transfer market so far, which is understandable as they will be competing in the CAF Champions League this season. At the same time, the lack of relegation from the league has meant that Nasarawa United, Jigawa Golden Stars, Kwara United and Adamawa United will get another shot in the NPFL, after they finished in the bottom four spots based on PPG, but were able to stay on in the league since relegation was suspended.