By: SAMUEL SACKEY
The modern game has found itself in an unprecedented situation as the novel Coronavirus takes hold of every aspect of community and the world at large. This weirdly and unmanageable times has shows clearly the importance of football, and why we must embrace it when it returns.
The desolate reality of the Coronavirus struck 212 countries and territories with over 3.58 billion people affected since the deadly virus first hit Wuhan-China in November– December 2019 before dispatching to main Europe and the worldwide in late February, 2020.
In club football, almost all recognised football countries under FIFA has their domestic league suspended due to this same coronarivus except Belarus who kept playing along the phenomenon, with Germany, Faroe Islands and South Korea all coming out of their suspended league and resumed their respective 2019/20 seasons.
With this effect, the sporting calendar has been left annihilated in the wake of the worldwide pandemic. As billions of people have directly suffered from the significant health consequences of COVID-19; to the extent of the disease now affecting societies and wiping away the daily lives of innocent souls including more than 248,000 death cases as at May 5, 2020 according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Suspension of football leagues
Football at the highest level globally has not been immune to these consequences, and a series of press releases across Europe and the world at large in the build-up has effectively brought the beautiful game to a standstill.
Whosoever pictured or shared sentiments that the modern game was protected and saved in an unstable factor that dissociable from pragmatism were suppressed as topnotch figures in the football cycles were affected by the Virus.
AC Milan sporting director Paolo Maldini, Arsenal’s boss Mikel Arteta, Juventus trio Daniel Rugani, Blaise Matuidi, and Paulo Dybala, Ezekiel Garay, Eliaquim Mangala of Valencia fame, Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, Aston Villa’s Pepe Reina, Fiorentina’s Patrick Cutrone, Manolo Gabbiadini of Sampdoria, Belgium’s Marouane Fellani, and President of the japanese football Association Kozo Tashima are among tall list of personalities within the football cycle that tested positive for the deadly COVID-19.
Withstanding with the above mentioned stars who survived from the deadly virus, few others couldn’t stand the test of the dangerous pandemic.
Abdulkadir Mohammed Farah, Pape Diouf, Luciano Federici, Innocenzo Donina, Jose Luis Capon, Goyo Benito, Arnold Sowinski, Miguel Jones and the youngest victim of this pandemic among footballers Francisco Garcia 21, of Malaga all kicked the bucket with the effect of coronavirus to leave the footballing world in dismay.
There is a duty of care that must be of primary importance, and it is at these times that players and managers are held in equal regard as the staff and non coaching staffs as well as fans of their respective clubs. The implications of the Coronavirus has had far-reaching consequences across the world, and this situation has shown the irrelevance of titles, records, statistics, results and other significant stuffs.
Football has ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the immediate concern is the simple survival of many clubs because of the financial impact, but there is hope that the global game could ultimately emerge better from this crisis. But there is an ugly side of the modern game that remains as individuals have taken a swift advantage on the crisis to push their own agendas, and while decisions over the future of the various competitions affected remain unclear, many have offered proposed solutions despite being completely unaware of exactly when the games will be in a pole position to resume.
The global footballing calendar is in disorder amid virus fears, with dozens of events cancelled, postponed or relocated; Dozens of international sport events have been cancelled or postponed around the world due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. The pathogen’s effect has been felt across a range of sports—from football, athletics, rugby, golf, tennis, motorsports, boxing, basketball and many more.
The pandemic, which began in China in late December, has plunged the global sporting calendar into deflect and cast a shadow over preparations for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, and the European championship slated for june have all been postponed. Qualifiers for the summer games in Japan, all FIFA World Cup qualifiers games across the globe and Africa’s prestigious tournament, Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers are among a growing list of competition either pushed back or relocated because of the global canker.
In Europe, football sessions top across the top five major leagues have been suspended until further notice with others cancelled. European Union of Football Association (UEFA) on April 1, 2020 suspended its prestigious club competitions, the UEFA champions league and the UEFA Europa league until further notice.
Returning to normalcy will not be an easy process for clubs and players that currently find themselves in isolation. A lack of match fitness will be an obvious concern, and while injured players will have an opportunity to recover as the football world is suspended, the intensity of finishing the current season in a condensed period of time to do ‘more harm than good’.
Respected figures in the game over the years have continually criticised the pressure placed on the fitness of players, and how the intense period of winter fixtures leads to injury, which in turn weakens the quality of the product it offers. The various winter breaks offer an opportunity for a period of recovery, but are quickly riposte by a return to the demands of balancing domestic games with European ties.
The pandemic has put football on hold across Europe’s top leagues. With the German Bundelisga, it has become the first major league among the top five European leagues to resume to actions on May, 16, in empty stadias, as they approves five substitutions per game as proposed by FIFA and approved by the body that determines the laws of operations in the game; the International Football Association Board(IFAB) since Angela Merkel’s government and state leaders granted the permission.
The English premier league (EPL) which is arguably regarded as the most watched league in Europe’s topflight football could likely return to actions on June 12th, behind closed doors at neutral grounds should the United Kingdom government and it National Health service(NHS) authorities gives the greenlight.
Nevertheless, countries such as Portugal, Austria, Czech Republic, Norway, Turkey, China, Denmark and Russia all have agreed with set dates to restart its various leagues in this month[May] and June respectively.
Celtic has been crowned Scottish Premiership champions for the 9th year in a row with 13 points clear second place Rangers on 80 points after 30 games following an SPFL board meeting on Monday, May, 18, as Chairman of the Scottish professional football league (SPFL), Murdoch MacLennan announced. On the other hand Heart of Midlothian relegated after coming bottom of the twelve club league with Dundee United gaining promotion into the topflight football
But while the high-profile managers and players naturally claim the majority of headlines, how those clubs will survive this humanitarian crisis persist uncertainty. The clubs that are really set to suffer are those that sit lower down the various pyramid systems, and while the suspension of fixtures will mean no commercial and matchday income, player salaries must still be paid.
As lots of clubs are suffering from financial crisis with African clubs having a high rate, it has become a subject matter within clubs to promptly fix in pay cuts on salary with others too putting a halt on paying their non coaching staffs. Top clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid all accepted pay cut on their salary to help stabilize the financial crisis on their teams.
Meanwhile Italian outfit SSC Napoli suspended all non-coaching staffs to save the club from financial constraint. The small margins that some clubs work within will make this impossible to sustain in the long-term.
Then there are the match day staff, those working for clubs on zero hour contracts, will be left with nothing while the suspension remains in place. Media outlets will have to get busy without match day reports else in decline in newspaper sales will only increase with limited topics of discussion available. The match day experience is a crucial part of society for millions of fans. But the freelance match day reporters will find their services no longer required, and this is likely to be a long-term case as the crisis continues.
It will also lead to a financial nightmare for clubs, associations and broadcasters. TV money will go down(a typical example is the French ligue 1 loosing an amount worth £278 of TV right money), players and coaches will earn less. Tickets will cost less because people will have less money. The economy will be different and so will football. Maybe it will be better; keeping football in perspective
Football is just one small aspect of society, and while the implications will affect many on a personal and professional level, life will also change for millions of people around the world.
Not since World War II has the sport been forced to stop across Europe after the 1942 & the 1946 FIFA world Cup tournaments were abandoned. The sudden interruption has exposed the deficiencies of a system inebriated by huge sums of money. Cutbacks are inevitable in the short term.
Key decisions have been taken by the European Union of Football Association(UEFA) with a possible plan to complete the suspended flagship tournament; the association will hold an executive committee meeting on June 17, as it looks to decide how this season’s Champions League and Europa League campaigns will be decided with a proposed decision to play its Quarter-final and Semi final stages in a one legged affairs, likely to be staged in Istanbul[Turkey].
Africa’s club competition such as the CAF Champions league and confederation cup, the Copa libertadores and other domestic leagues around Europe are still on hold without a fix date for resumption.
However, the unknown factor of the situation means that no plans for a return to the game can be confirmed. There are other school of thought of a debate to pronounced this current 2019/20 season null and void with others too controversially calling for winners to be declared. The question is have those people considered promotion and demotion as the debate still goes on?
Mauritius, Angola, Kenya, Niger, Ethiopia, Liberia, Burkinafaso and Congo Brazzaville on the African continent has all cancelled their respective leagues prematurely to end its 2019/20 football seasons “with immediate effect” due to the coronavirus outbreak– Upon the cancellation, the Football Kenya Federation(FKF) awarded traditional club Gor Mahia with the trophy as eventual winners of the 2019/20 Kenya premier league with Congo Brazzaville also following suit to declare AS Otoho d’Oyo champions for leading a 14 points at the summit of the table. However, Niger, Angola, Ethiopia, Burkinafaso, Liberia and Mauritius all declared their cancelled seasons ‘null and void’ without any champions and demotions.
A shocking decision came along the line when the Jupiler Pro League in Belgium became the first major European competition to assign a winner to[Club Blugge] terminating the season early due to the coronavirus pandemic with only one game away off the 2109/20 season with 70 points plus 58 goals in 29 matches on sporting merit. On the other hand in Holland the Dutch Eredivisie campaign saw it cancellation on 24, April 2020 after the Dutch Government banned all sporting events until September 1 without assigning any champion, relegation and promotion- denying leaders Ajax the title who were superior on goal difference to AZ Alkmaar on same point.
The French Professional Football League(LFP) on April, 28, 2020, followed suit and ended the 2019/20 season after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cancelled all sporting events until September due to the COVID 19. Following this decision, Paris Saint German were crown champions of the 2019/20 ligue 1 season for a third successful year with having open 12–points lead over second place Olympic Marseille; whiles Nimes, Amiens, and Toulouse all faced relegation with Lorient and Lens also occupied the automatic promotion spots from the ligue 2.
Elsewhere in Italy, seria A clubs has resumed training on May, 18, amid the halted league with a possible return on 13th June following the announcement made by the ‘Lega Calcio Assembly’ after the country’s minister of sports, Vincenzo Spadafora gave the go ahead of training activities. The Spanish Premier LA Liga Santander still remains suspended with June 12th as the proposed set date for restart after resuming training along the line with plans to get the season back on track.
Liverpool, who sit 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League would see their hopes of ending a 30-year wait for the title disappear. But if time runs out to get the outstanding fixtures played and the season is lost, it won’t just be Liverpool who will see all of their efforts go to waste.
Many other records and achievements would also vanish prematurely. Prior to the shutdown in mid-March, with Jurgen Klopp’s team just two wins away from claiming the title, no team would lose more than Liverpool if the season is abandoned. Not only would they see the title melt from their grasp, they would also have to accept a series of landmarks and milestones being erased too. This season, Liverpool have equalled Manchester City’s record 18-game winning streak in the Premier League and also eclipsed City’s mark of 20 straight home wins, taking their tally to 22 with their victory against Bournemouth in March. If the season is declared null and void, all of the above would be wiped out.
After Liverpool’s woes, African football is most likely tipped to crawl after the eradication of the pandemic.
Even before the outbreak of the disease, bigger and lower teams on the continent ran affairs on financial crisis due to their only source of resources which is player exodus and the economy of the continent itself.
The world governing body, Federation Of International Football Association(FIFA) have decided to cancel the 2020 ‘Best player’ awards ceremony. This means the trophy will remains with no winner this year and Barcelona fame Lionel Messi will continue to be the reigning champion.
African reliance on player sales
For African football a greater portion of clubs among the 56 recognized member associations under the Confederation of Africa Football(CAF) rely mostly on players’ sale for income.
Former continental club champions such as Al Ahly, ES Tunis, TP Mazembe, Mamelodi Sundowns have been financially stable with many more former champions battling it out with finances like Enyimba FC, Accra Hearts of Oak and many more tall list of clubs to be affected with the coronavirus due to their sole dependence on players’ sale for income.
However, with FIFA providing an immediate financial assistance to it’s member associations for the years 2019 and 2020 in the coming days as the first step of a relief plan to assist the football community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This measure will mean that a total of around USD 150 million will be distributed among the 211 national football governing bodies around the world with every association receiving 500,000 dollars effectively to help sustain the financial constraints due to the pandemic effect.
Over the years there has been a massive player movement from Africa to the Middle East, but now that the transfer business is likely to be disrupted, players would be hit hard by denying opportunities to play abroad by the coronavirus.
Africa’s prestigious club competitions like the CAF Champions league and CAF Confederation Cup if cancelled prematurely due to this COVID 19 an amount worth US$2.5 million and US$1.25 million which was due for the ultimate champions of the above mentioned competitions will not been given out. Not only income in Africa are bound to suffer but the governing body will be universally shaky as TV commercials and headline sponsors like TOTAL and others could likely get their contract push back.
Due to these outbreak as fears are growing across the Middle East, coronavirus has infiltrated a main pilgrimage route, which is leading the deadly pathogen to causing perhaps unprecedented public health crises across the globe, the unforeseeable future of football may be overshadow.
The winter date of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar could help shape the immediate football calendar.
In fact, delaying the re-start of football as we know requires careful planning and long-term consideration, and the switch to a winter World Cup in 2022 could see the effects of the Coronavirus extend to this competition.
In fact, the tournament in Qatar could offer a periodic yardstick to shape all competitions over the course of the next two years. This reality of what is currently happening is just a brief suspension of business.
In actual senses using the proposed winter schedule of the next World Cup could be the turning point in restoring football to a familiar calendar once this matter is over, despite the fact it is still a couple of years away.
Revising the format of certain competitions around the World, tournament could allow normality to resume on the other side, but the lack of assurance over resolving to this problem makes such solutions hypothetical.
But while the technical elements of the immediate future of the game are important in one context, they are irrelevant in another, and it is the health and safety of each and every individual that must take primary consideration. The safest option is to continue with the suspension for an indefinite period, and the current seasons may not even resume for a number of months to come, if it does at all. What will be left of clubs lower down the food chain should that situation occur is difficult to imagine with clubs in South America.
Copa Libertadores, the biggest club competition in south America will also be hit hard with the pandemic. The competition which generates an amount worth$36.55 million for the winner will mostly take a drastic turn.
However, the top goal scorers and best players of this competition who receive great offer to continue their trade in Europe are also most likely to stay out player transfer as FIFA has proposed a shift in player transfer for this summer.
The tournament which is regarded as the gateway for most players on the Continent into main Europe to continue their career, player transfer will have a great setback due to the coronavirus outbreak with South America noted as the leading Association under FIFA with high rate of it players playing across the globe outside their homeland. They [South America] export over 500 players annually.
Football is a vital part of society for so many fans around the world
Although public safety is paramount, it is the structure of football, and sport in general, that shapes our entire lives.
Huge consequences on businesses
The social aspect of attending matches is a vital source of human contact for some, especially those most vulnerable to this virus, while the wider economic downturn of millions of fans sitting at home instead of following their pre and post-match routines will have huge consequences for businesses across the world.
Football is not a necessity for those not employed in the industry, but it is an important element in the lives of millions of people. The sport is woven into our cultural fabric, and there is no easy way to replace the return we get from investing so much of ourselves into the fortunes of our respective clubs.
In the past, it is football that has brought solace to millions in difficult times. Now, it is this most difficult of times that has taken it away.
Football has been beset over the last three or four decades by drug bans and boycotts, though nothing matches the scale of the coronavirus. With every tournament or games on hold, the industry’s economic impact is undermined and sabotage by the COVID 19 as revenues from ticket sales being hit; garb and sportswear sales are down.
For modern commercial sport especially football, there has never been anything like this ‘unmasking’ the reputation of the beautiful game.
Writers email: email@example.com
Writers email: SackeySamuel1270@gmail.com