Going Out

Beware! Your passion for football might endanger your life

Written by Akinmade

In spite of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, many Nigerians still assemble in large number at football viewing centres to watch European football matches 

Sunday Akintoye

Nigerian football fans are famed all over the world for their passion for the game. They are always noticeable for their frenzy support for the national teams in international and continental competitions.

But in the last two decades, their passion for European football has grown in bounds as the Nigerian professional league lost its appeal to most Nigerians. Many now follow the exploit of European teams and their players, including Nigerian professionals playing for them with rapid attention and passion. And this they do by going to the various viewing centres that dotted the landscape of the country.

From the urban to the suburbs and the rustic rural areas across the country, you are bound to see a viewing centre just across the corner. Even when that village does not have a constant electricity supply, the centre is powered by an electric generator. This is largely helped by the fact that more than a third of the country’s population is football crazy.

This trend has not abetted even with the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic as many football fans still go to viewing centres to watch their favourite teams play.

These centres are always filled, especially if a big match is being played. In the case of the UEFA Champions League matches, it is a big business night for the owners.

The Observers Life Checks revealed that football fans have fully returned to viewing centres after the initial lull of last year when actions were temporarily stopped in the sporting world arena by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kunle Salami, an ardent fan of Chelsea Football Club of England, told The Observers Life that many people come to the viewing centre to watch the matches to support their teams while also catching some fun.

“What attracts me to come to the viewing centre is to give support to my club but if my club is not playing I would be here to watch good football. Aside from this, Football is the most-watched sport in Nigeria and European leagues are the most exciting and entertaining leagues in the world and every football fan wants to watch them especially those who are following some big clubs in Europe,” he said.

Investigations showed that fans turnout at the centres is still large unless there is no big match. Dolapo Aremu, a football fan, said more than 70 per cent of football fans come to the viewing centre despite COVID-19 as only a few people stay back at home to watch the matches.

Dotun Olaleye, a viewing centre owner, confirmed that COVID-19 has not affected many viewing centres in Lagos. He said most viewing centres record large turnouts, especially on big match days while few have low turnout because of their locations.

“Those who are not coming are few in numbers unless if there are no big matches. If we have star matches, the attendance is always high,” he said.

John Osikoya, another owner, said viewing centres being a venue for social interaction and relaxation will continue to be an attraction to Nigerians, Covid-19 or not.

“Those who are coming to viewing centres are those who used to come before Covid-19. Although when the deadly disease broke out early last year, all football leagues in the world were suspended, then and it really affected us but presently the leagues are ongoing and every football fan wants to catch the glimpse of their teams so the COVID-19 has not stopped us and the percentage who are not coming are few in numbers” he said. 

The investigation also showed that many fans decide to go to the viewing centres because of economic reasons. The matches with most attractions are foreign leagues, which are shown only on cable TV in Nigeria. The matches on Saturday by the terrestrial national network, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) are just one and usually not the big ones.

While it cost an average of N2,5oo per month for subscriptions to be able to watch premium matches many could not afford this and would rather settle for paying N100 per match or about N200 per week to watch his/her team play in the country league and the UEFA matches (if qualified to do so).

Also, some fans explained that the large turnouts are also influenced by socializing reasons as some turn out to catch up with friends, throw banters and generally have some other fun apart from watching good football.

Jamiu Hamzat, a football coach, said many people come to the viewing centre to get information about the latest news on players, teams and coaches in Europe. He describes the viewing centre as a place where fans can be updated on football.

But not all viewing centre owners have been lucky so far.

Lanre Adetoro, who has a small viewing centre in Ijaiye area of Lagos, said the Covid-19 pandemic has affected his business as numbers of fans dropped by 60 per cent. He said not all viewing centres are affected but the locations of some viewing centres determine the numbers of fans that would patronize the viewing centre.

“I don’t have much crowd again since COVID-19 broke out. I hope the business would bounce back when the European qualifiers and FIFA World cup qualifying matches kick off across the world later in the year,” he said.

Even though the Coronavirus Disease Health Protection Act 2021 has put in place many protocols as regards public gatherings, football has proven that Nigerian passion for the game can defy safety precautions.

Part 1 of the Act deals with restrictions on gatherings, specifying that at all gatherings, a two-metre physical distance shall be maintained at all times between persons. It also states that no gathering of more than 50 persons shall be held in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which the gathering shall not exceed 50 per cent capacity of the space.

Many of the viewing centres accommodate more than 50 football fans for most matches with both the operators and fans not giving a hoot about this provision of the Act.

Also, Part 2 of the Act stipulates that no one will be allowed within the premises of a market, mall, supermarket, shop, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, restaurants, hotels, event centres, motor parks, fitness centre, etc except he/she is wearing a face mask that covers the nose and mouth; washes his/her hands or cleaned the hands using hand sanitiser approved by NAFDAC and his/her body temperature has been checked.

The Act further stipulates that anyone whose body temperature is above 38 degrees Celsius will be denied entry and advised to seek immediate medical attention.

The Covid-19 protocols are largely thrown over-board during the big match days with many fans turning out without their face masks while no body temperatures are monitored.

But why are Nigerians breaking the sections of this Act and endangering their lives and those of others?

Seun Ojo, another football fan, said only a few fans observed the COVID-19 protocols because many of them don’t believe in them.

“It is true that fans generally ignore this protocol because they are not convinced about the disease. Secondly, some fans always wear their facemask and leave other protocols,” he said.

Mustapha Bello, another fan, said some viewing centres operators are putting measures in place but the majority of the fans ignore it.

“I am also guilty of it but at times I follow the protocols. I believe that the disease exists but I used to forget to use my facemask most time,” he said.

Hamza said only a few football fans do seriously observe the Covid-19 protocols at viewing centres as many are careless about it. He explained that many viewing centres operators are trying their best but only a few fans maintain the protocols.

But Olaleye is quick to counter. He said many football fans at the viewing centres observe the COVID-19 protocols by wearing their face mask and watch their hands with sanitiser before entering.

“I make sure that they observe COVID-19 protocols by using their face mask, washing their hands with sanitiser before coming in. We try as much as possible to make the sitting arrangement in line with covid-19 protocols by spacing the seats and ensure that there is social distancing,” he said.

Mr Jide Sonibare, another owner, who said the business is picking up gradually especially now that the European leagues are in the second stanza, stated that he has put measures in place for the Covid-19 protocols for the fans to observe. But he admitted that some fans comply with the protocols while some do otherwise.

Investigations by The Observers Life revealed that most of the viewing centres half-heartedly enforce the Covid-19 protocols in their operations despite the government effort to reduce the deadly disease in the country.

It is so obvious that the fans’ passion for the game and the allure of profits for the owners’ have made nonsense of the Covid-19 protocols in many football viewing centres in Nigeria.

So if you are a fan, beware that passion for football might jeopardise your health.

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