It was business as usual for operators of football viewing centres in some parts of the country, as they entertained customers during Wednesday’s English Premier League games, in defiance to the directive of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which placed a ban on viewing centres operating in the country.
The EPL, which has a large following in Nigeria, returned to action on Wednesday after it was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The league’s return came as a respite to hitherto aggrieved fans, most of who belonged to the lower class and patronise viewing centres for European football.
But a statement by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, warning against the re-opening of football viewing centres, dashed the hopes of the operators who have been counting their losses since the global ban on sporting activities.
“We have received reports that some states are contemplating the reopening of schools, television viewing centres, sports stadiums and other places where large gatherings could take place,” Mustapha stated at the PTF’s press briefing on Monday.
“The PTF re-emphasises that it is not yet safe to do so and that utmost caution should be exercised. The PTF guidelines should still be complied with while considering decision of this nature.”
Several viewing centres opened on Wednesday though, with fans trooping in to watch the EPL matches involving Aston Villa versus Sheffield United and Manchester City versus Arsenal.
Several of the centres had fans who didn’t wear facemasks and failed to observe social distancing. Also, there were no sanitary facilities on the ground for usage.
A football fan, Adeola Ajide, who watched both games at a viewing centre on Ebiere Street, Isolo, Lagos, said, “The viewing centre at my end is open, though no soap and water to wash hands, all I can see here is social distancing and the use of facemasks.
“The population isn’t as much as we used to have it before the lockdown. I guess the rain is another factor too.”
“Social distancing didn’t work here; I can tell you, I’m the only one wearing a mask in a hall containing 23 people. There’s also no social distancing and the operator of the outlet didn’t provide water, soap or sanitisers for the customers,” John Olakunle, who watched one of Wednesday’s EPL games at a viewing centre on Funsho George Street in Puposhola area of Abule Egba, Lagos, said.