WITH the Europa premier league returning to the screens of viewers on Wednesday,operators of football viewing centres in some parts of the country have defied the directive of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which placed a ban on viewing centre.
The emotional return of the EPL, which was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world was a moment of joy for aggrieved fans, most of who patronise viewing centres for European football and others.
Reports by PUNCH reaveled that owners of some viewing centres in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo and Ekiti states, expressed delight at the return of the league as they also revealed plans to maintain social distancing among viewers during the live games.
However, a statement by Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, that warned against the re-opening of football viewing centres, has crushed 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 strongly emphasised that it was not yet safe to open viewing centres and that utmost caution should be exercised. Mustapha advised that the PTF guidelines should be considered.
Just last week Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje had announced the reopening of football viewing centres across the state following the resumption of European football leagues in Europe.
This he said was in line with decisions to see that the state’s economy bounces back, through reinvigorating commercial and other business activities in the state.
Despite warnings, reports showed that several viewing centres opened on Wednesday, with fans trooping in to watch the EPL matches involving Aston Villa versus Sheffield United and Manchester City versus Arsenal.
Several of the fans were seen without face masks and defied social distancing directives. Also, sanitary facilities such as hand washing basins and hand sanitisers were not on ground for use.
Adeola Ajide of the PUNCH, 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 but all I can see here is social distancing and the use of face masks.
“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.
In Makurdi, the Benue State capital,several viewing centres were open for business on Wednesday.
A fan, Friday Tersoo, who watched the Manchester City versus Arsenal game at a viewing centre on Bida Street, Wadata, Makurdi, said, “The hall is overfilled with fans, who were eager to watch a high-profile match live for the first time in three months. The operator said only three people should sit on each bench, but nobody obeyed him because of the large crowd. Only few people wore facemasks. Everyone is just happy that football is back.”
While some viewing centres operators complied with the FG’s directive by remaining closed in some places, fans were seen trooping to hotels and bars to watch the match.