Eight football teams set to participate in the Nigerian National League (NNL) relegation playoffs in Kano have expressed deep reservations about the upcoming event, citing health and logistical concerns.
The teams, including ABS FC, Sokoto United, Ikorodu City, Edel FC, FWC Champion FC, Smart City FC, Henserd FC, and Adamawa United, released a joint press statement outlining their worries.
The NNL had notified the designated clubs of the playoffs’ venue and date via a memo last week. However, the teams are grappling with mixed feelings about the decision, primarily due to the ongoing economic challenges affecting the country.
The major cause for concern lies in the prevailing health situation in Kano, where an outbreak of Diphtheria has been spreading at an alarming rate. The Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has placed the outbreak on high-priority status, with 798 confirmed cases and 80 deaths reported nationwide as of June 2023.
A staggering 439 suspected cases emerged from Kano, out of which 160 were later confirmed. Even more concerning is the recent confirmation of 130 additional cases in July before the month’s end.
Diphtheria, a highly fatal disease with a simple mode of transmission, has raised red flags for the teams, especially since Kano is considered the epicentre of the outbreak. The weekend’s news reports from the Punch and Vanguard newspapers revealed Kano state’s plea for federal support in tackling the overwhelming outbreak.
The extended delay of the playoffs, which have gone beyond the football calendar by almost three months, has compounded financial implications for both government and private clubs. With many clubs already focusing on preparations for the new season, the necessity of the playoffs at this time has been called into question, especially as the eight teams’ fate about relegation is unsure.
The choice of Kano as the venue raises practical concerns, particularly for private club owners. The proximity of the location and its financial implications have become overwhelming factors to consider. Also, the safety of travel is a worrisome issue due to the prevailing high insecurity alert, making road travel impractical and air travel financially unfeasible for the teams’ contingents.
In light of these pressing concerns, the teams have submitted four prayers to the NNL and the Nigerian Football Federation, led by Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau:
1. A request for a postponement to allow ample time for the vaccination of all team members before the playoffs or an alternate venue selection.
2. Emphasis on protecting the health and safety of players and management staff from exposure to the deadly disease.
3. Suggestion to consider the outright cancellation of the playoffs for footballing reasons.
4. An appeal to prioritize the well-being and lives of the players above all else.