AFCON qualifier: Mixed reactions trail FG’s fans ban

Football stakeholders have reacted to the Federal Government’s decision to stop fans from attending the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying game between Nigeria and Sierra Leone at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City November 13.

Last week, the Edo State Government announced its intention to throw the gates open for fans to watch the game live at the refurbished15,000-capacity stadium.

President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, during an inspection of the stadium on Monday, stated, “We have to observe the COVID-19 protocols to the letter. They (Edo) have written to us officially, this is a 15,000-capacity stadium. They want about 6,000 to 7,000 fans who will observe social distancing, so we are going to look at it. We will send letters to the (sports) ministry and the Presidential Task Force. Once we get the approval within the next two days we will send.”

However, the sports ministry in a letter addressed to the Deputy Governor of Edo State, Philip Shaibu, on Wednesday, advised the state against allowing fans into the stadium.

Former Chairman, Gombe State Football Association, Shuaib Gara-Gombe, disagrees with the position of the ministry.

He said, “The ministry’s decision was only to get at the NFF because whatever position the ministry holds should be quietly communicated to the NFF, who can now act appropriately on it.

“Is it not the same country where we had political rallies in Ondo and Edo states? As at the time they had those rallies the rate of COVID-19 was still high and the protocols had not been relaxed. Now that we opened churches, markets and mosques, why can’t they allow fans into the stadium?”

Sports journalist, Godwin Enakhena, said the FG’s directive must be obeyed.

“If politicians are taking risks, it doesn’t mean others should, because the people who gathered at political rallies are peasants who came to get their daily bread,” Enakhena said.

“If the Federal Government says no fans, we should respect that and adhere to it because even when the stadia were opened how many fans did we see?”

Alloy Chukwuemeka, Secretary of the Club Owners Association, said the state government and the FG could reach an agreement to allow fans into the stadium.

He said, “The Edo governor wants fans to enjoy the game but he should also understand that the conditions for the resumption of  contact sports is very clear. He should approach the PTF and the NCDC and give them reasons why they should allow the fans in.”

Ex-international, Mutiu Adepoju, added, “I don’t know what it is like to play in a stadium without fans. We all know about the pandemic; it will be better if we all adhere to the restrictions, rules and regulations, which everyone seem to have forgotten at the moment.”

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