FIFA-badged referee, Ferdinand Udoh, on Thursday has condemned the continued ban on sports activities in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying there was no further justification for it.
Udoh, while reacting to an online petition calling on the Nigerian government to lift the ban on all sports activities, questioned the wisdom behind the ban now in its seventh month.
The top referee said in Abuja that shutting down sports while public places with higher density of people had been opened had no justification.
“The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has lifted ban on markets, places of worship, cinemas, schools, et centers. But do we know how many people go to the markets on a daily basis?
“The smallest market has more people doing business than any sports activities would ever have spectators. So, why should markets open but sports activities can’t hold?
“Those making these decisions have to come out and tell us the rationale behind suppressing sports activities, especially football, which is the lifeline of many youths in this country.
“The mental and physical health of players, coaches, referees, administrators and many others is also at great risk.
“Many of these people depend on sports activities for their livelihood. There is no excuse anyone will come out with to justify the continued ban on sports activities,” he said.
Udoh, who recently had a successful Achilles surgery following a career-threatening injury, argued that sports activities had since returned to countries worse hit by the pandemic than Nigeria.
“We can resume football without fans, as done in Europe and even South Africa here in our continent. Nigeria hasn’t been as badly hit by the pandemic as Italy, the UK, Spain, France and South Africa.
“Yet, sports activities have resumed in those countries for months now. How many players, officials, journalists and other stakeholders will come together in a typical league match?” he asked.
A petition recently appeared on social media calling on the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, the PTF on COVID-19 and other stakeholders to lift the ban on sports.
Udoh said it was gratifying to see that the media was waking up to its responsibility, even if it was coming a little late.
“The agitation for the ban on sports activities to be lifted is coming rather late. It ought to have started earlier and that is where the media comes in.
“I am surprised that, until now, journalists were not pushing the agenda for the ban on sports to be lifted.
“Sometimes, it’s easy to criticise the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) when they don’t do the right thing. It’s easy to criticise the LMC when they fail in certain aspects of their tasks.
“It’s easy to criticise referees when they make mistakes.
“Journalists should also use the same energy to call attention to the plight of those whose lives depend on sports. The press was too quiet for too long on this issue,” he said.
Sports activities have been badly affected by the outbreak of COVID-19, with major international and local tournaments either postponed or suspended.
The Nigerian football leagues have also been affected, with the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), Nigeria National League (NNL), Nationwide League One (NLO) and Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) all suspended.
Udoh said, like other stakeholders, referees were bearing the brunt of football inactivity.
“We are all losers in this situation. For example, referees have been invited for courses in Cairo, Egypt but no Nigerian referee was invited because our leagues have been dormant.
“Normally, we get FIFA instructors’ and FIFA membership association courses every year through the NFF.
“But Nigerian referees are stranded because we don’t even know what is happening in the world of refereeing anymore,” he said. (NAN)