By Ade Ojeikere
Today’s headline is a line taken from one of the late Robert Nesta Marley’s (Bob Marley) songs titled ‘who the cap fits’. I can almost hear you, dear reader, complete the lyric by singing ‘let them wear it.’ Did I hear say which crown is at stake this time when the dreaded Coronavirus is gradually becoming a plague. God forbid.
Coronavirus should please remain in the crisis stage where it is – a pandemic. If you noticed, dear reader, I have also refused to discuss the Coronavirus scourge believing that God would intervene through the discovery of the appropriate medication to stop its spread.
Many would be wondering why any discussion should start with the leagues across the world in abeyance. This writer feels strongly that the European leagues would surely end, especially the Barclays English Premier league.
Please don’t choke while reading this. I can hear many say ‘there he goes again, Liverpool fan.’ Not exactly please. The English League like others are run as businesses and it is this platform that would force out a formula to decide the eventual winners of the leagues.
Something must give. And indications are rife with the purported secret meetings of the clubs where it was decided that the English game comes alive from July 1, with a six weeks schedule. Different postulations have been offered by pundits, lovers of the game and players, with each group suggesting reasonable plans towards ensuring that the EPL ends.
Of course, the laughable ones are there, especially those from rival clubs against the current league leaders. And it is expected since victory for the Reds means the team has won its 19th league title, one short of the Red Devils’ 20 EPL titles.
The jokes are not lost on what the comical ones offer to a sulking Liverpool as these mischievous ones delight themselves with such outrageous teasers as Reds’ first EPL title win bring in its wake the deadly Coronavirus.
What won’t we hear when the discuss is football. These are the reasons the game is the King of sports and an unpredictable game, even though it is exciting to watch.
On a daily basis, there are different perspectives to the EPL’s likely end, with every party in making the league exciting knowing its predicaments and roles, ahead of the imminent resumption date, no thanks to the coronavirus.
In fact the deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries raised the alarm over the likely consequences of rushing the players through the remaining nine games insisting that: ”England could remain in varying degrees of lockdown for up to six months.”
Interestingly, Daily Mail in its reports launched the angle of what the lockdown could cost the television rights, whose cash is the lubricant to make the game, one is which the world standstill when the matches are being played.
According to the Daily Mail report on Tuesday: ”A restart in May is seen as vital as that is when the clubs are due to receive their final tranche of television money for the season, without which many will struggle to pay the players’ wages.
The £762m of combined income under threat is not divided equally and would range from £57m for the Premier League winners to £20m for the team which finishes bottom.
”Ironically, the bigger clubs stand to lose more than usual this season if those payments are withheld following last year’s changes to the distribution of the overseas television deal, which, unlike the domestic deal, is no longer divided equally but determined by league position.”
One trending scenario in the bid to fix the puzzles that have arisen from the coronavirus pandemic is that the government has the final decision on whether to continue the EPL, yet, the English organisers, unlike ours have taken proactive steps, having suspended the competition twice. They have proposed two dates first on April 4 and then on April 30, looking at the medical indices from around the country.
However, one of the problems the league will face is convincing players to return to action after it emerged that they are not insured for coronavirus as it is not listed as a critical illness. A number have sought clarification but are being advised they are not covered.
The postulations towards ending the EPL are many just as they are intriguing, with indications rife that clubs, including those eyeing promotion from the lower cadre.
What it means is that there is the possibility of the matter heading for the courts, for those who would be holding the wrong end of the stick when the chips are down.
Would increasing the EPL’s squad sizes from 25 to 29 help strengthen those clubs that are presently depleted due to varying degrees of players’ illnesses? Would the organisers allow these depleted sides parade their youth teams like Liverpool did against Aston Villa in an away game during the Carabao Cup, with Villa whipping the Reds scandalously 5-0?
I almost choked reading the option of ending the EPL without promotion or demotion of teams for fear that the integrity of the competitions would be threatened, especially as there isn’t any guarantee this 2019/2020 season won’t come to an end.
The suggestion reminded me of the Nigerian league organisers except that they didn’t talk about abridged leagues like ours, knowing that Championships team who are almost through to the elite class would head for the courts, if they are denied promotion.
What is clear in the EPL cancellation scenario, if it gets to that is that the rules would be followed to the letter, leaving all the parties agreeing on what to do for the good of the game. Happily, Premier League clubs have all agreed to discuss their players taking wage cuts or deferrals of up to 30 per cent wage after their latest round of talks Friday.
”The Premier League have also voted to hand the EFL and National League £125m as they continue to battle the effects of the coronavirus. And the top flight clubs have also agreed to make a £20m donation to the NHS, local communities, families and groups who have been affected by the coronavirus crisis.
”The future of the league season was also high on the agenda, and it was decided that the Premier League and Football League will not return ‘until it is safe to do so”, according to Daily Mail on Friday.
Indeed, sports lawyer, David Seligman of Brandsmiths, told Sports Mail, Wednesday when asked the solution to contracts involving businesses in the EPL that: ”options generally have to be activated by the third Saturday in May.
But if the season ends today, players might be able to terminate their agreements and sign for another club immediately. That’s an issue – clubs would say they didn’t have a chance to decide on whether to activate the option, especially when there is no visibility as to when the next season may commence.
”How could you extend a contract when you don’t know when next season is or ends either? When would it start and finish? How can you negotiate performance-related bonuses? There’s so much uncertainty and that always brings disputes,” Seligman said.
Would Nigerian administrators take a cue from the EPL’s handling of this matter? Those ones, I doubt. In fact, one of them is moaning the loss of revenue anchored on nothing. A league that has no television rights is dead and those in charge, beginning from the leader should quietly resign. Would they heed this call? Never. Not in the Nigerian character.
The domestic league is an apology, beginning with the sharp practices around the grounds before, during and after matches. Nothing to stimulate the interests of the spectators to sit patiently at the stands.
The essence of organising league matches isn’t for both teams to benefit from the gates takings, but to allow Nigerians watch the country’s future representatives at CAF inter-club competitions.
The matches ensure that the owners of the clubs (mostly state governments) get the facilities ready for the players to battle for honours. But with visionless organisers, anything goes, even if it means playing games with empty terraces.
Our administrators are merchants for excuses. They bask in embarking on white elephant projects. My problem with our administrators is that they are hasty to make sweeping comparisons despite their exposure to what is right. A fellow who officiates at international matches does not have to offer reasons for not replicating what obtains at international level.
Ade Ojeikere is the award-winning and London 2012 Olympic Games Torch Bearer. He is the Editor Sportinglife.
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