After waiting for the COVID-19 global pandemic to abate, we are seeing a spiral instead, and it is only fitting that the Nigeria Professional Football League clubs take a decision on how to end the 2019/2020 season suspended since March 22.
Into the week, therefore, the 20 clubs got together to agree on the best possible option among which were to call off the competition and apply the Point-Per-Game rating method to determine the top teams to represent the country in the continentals or go for a Super 6 playoff among others.
As reported, 17 of the clubs voted to end the league with the application of the PPG. Rangers voted for Super 6 while the duo of Akwa United and Lobi Stars abstained from voting. The majority position is to be conveyed to the League Management Company to inform its decision on how to close the season.
While it was thought that such a democratic process would be respected as binding on the clubs, a few of them have turned round to kick against same decision they were part of, even accusing the LMC of introducing the PPG to disadvantage them out of contention for the continentals.
Such double-speak raises questions as to whether there are no provisions in the NPFL rules on how to handle a situation of Force Majuere such as brought upon the league by the pandemic, and if indeed the process now being followed is in compliance or contravention of the rules.
The NPFL rules book defines Force Majuere as such occurrences “which by exercise of reasonable care and diligence, the clubs, teams, match officials, are unable to prevent” and provides in Article 15:24 that the treatment of such unforeseen situation into which the pandemic and lockdown fall “shall be dealt with by the LMC as the circumstances require, having regards to the interest of fairness, good sportsmanship and the overall interest of the game of football.”
It is therefore for the reason of fairness that the clubs brought in the PPG which entails rating clubs with the number of games they played and the average ratio of their performance with a view to bringing all clubs at per in determining the best performing teams. That way, clubs with outstanding matches due in most cases to their engagement in continental competitions would not suffer unjustly.
The PPG is no strange method in football. It is what was applied in ending the French Ligue 1 and was part of the consideration in the conversation towards ending the English Premier League of which the The Telegraph (UK) wrote as follows in one of its articles on May 18:
“This is one of the more straightforward options. In this model, a team’s number of points is simply divided by the number of matches they have played. The resulting figure is the average number of points each team has earned in each match of the season.”
With regards to the issue of relegation and promotion to and from the lower league, this is desirable to ensure keen competition but it is not sacrosanct. Article 15:25 under “Matters not Provided for,” as in the circumstance, is clear that the LMC and the clubs are “subject to such decisions or rulings that the NFF may from time to time make as regards the eligibility of any person or group of persons to participate in the league…”
This was also observed in the Dutch Eredivisie which decided that there would be no declaration of a champion and neither relegation nor promotion. Similarly, the French Lique 1 also decided against relegation.
It is true that clubs and fans can be emotional about their interests, especially to play in the continent, but these are unusual times which requires true stakeholders to stick together, submit to their own rules and respect democratic principles to protect the integrity of their game. It is no time to misguidedly bash and batter their own system to keep creating a wrong impression of chaos which turns off potential partners.
The submission of Edwin van der Sar, CEO of Ajax, to the decision of their league body is worth recalling in this regard.
“As a player and as a club you naturally want to become champion…We have been at the top all year round. Then it is a pity that you are not declared champion, but in this situation that may be understandable…,” he declared.
It is great that the club owners have taken a largely common position through a democratic process. The matter now goes to the LMC to adopt or amend and, if need be, the NFF will have to hit the final gavel. These are the bodies that matter in the matter, no other, as far as association and professional football is concerned.
The most important concern now should be for the LMC and the clubs to begin to plan for the new season given that CAF has set the guidelines for the resumption of football in the continent and the sports ministry also has released the protocols for re-opening of sports activities.
What is left is to see the sports establishment source and support the league into a stable kick off of the new season through the provision of essential COVID-19 prevention facilities and safety equipment, bearing in mind that the league is our strongest social asset and that it has lost revenue in the suspended season. For a nation that has been through the trauma of the moment, the football league would provide much healing for the people.