Coronavirus May Force Postponement of Nigeria, S’Leone Clash


By Femi Solaja

Following the spread of the Coronavirus across the globe, there are indications that this month’s FIFA window may suffer postponement unless adequate measures are in place to curb the further spread of the virus.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles are scheduled to play host to Sierra Leone in a Match- day 3 AFCON 2021 qualifying game slated for March 23rd at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba.

Although no word on it yet from the Glass House, THISDAY learnt that chiefs of the federation are going to decide on the matter before the week runs out.

“No decision has been taken on the match yet but I am sure a meeting is going to be hold on it before the week runs out,” a top official of the a NFF told THISDAY at the weekend.

But over the weekend, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has refused to rule out postponing international football matches in response to the escalating global threat of the coronavirus.

Matches in the leading two divisions in Switzerland, where football’s global governing body FIFA has its headquarters, were postponed on Friday (Feb 28) after the government banned all events involving more than a thousand people.

Five Serie A games in Italy were scheduled to be played behind closed doors with the clash between AC Milan and Atalanta postponed late yesterday. Leagues in Japan and South Korea were postponed earlier last week.

With several players, including those from Nigeria involved in AFCON Match-day 3 coming from Europe where the virus threat has been visible in the last two weeks, several federations have started taking a second critical look at the games ahead.

“The health of persons is much more important than any football game,” said Infantino as he arrived in Belfast on Friday for weekend’s annual general meeting of the rule-making International Football Association Board.

“That’s why we have to look at the situation and hope that it (the coronavirus) will decrease rather than increase. At the moment it looks like it is still increasing.

“If games have to be postponed or played without spectators until it is over, then we have to go through that.”

And while hopeful that next month’s international friendlies will go ahead, Infantino added: “I wouldn’t exclude anything at this moment. I hope we will never have to get into this direction. I think it will be difficult in any case to make a global ban because the situation is really different.”

Infantino was skeptical about the prospect of a large number of matches being played behind closed doors.

“Every competition organiser has to decide what is best for him,” he said. “In the short term it can be a solution in order to move on but you cannot imagine a few months of a competition with several matches played behind closed doors.”

The new coronavirus has caused fixture delays across sport, with Ireland’s Six Nations rugby union international at home to Italy, scheduled for March 7, postponed and no new date confirmed.

In Asia, the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai, due to take place on April 19, has been postponed because of the virus while athletics’ World Indoor Championships, scheduled to take place in the Chinese city of Nanjing this month have been held until 2021.

The outbreak could yet threaten the continent-wide Euro 2020 football championships starting in June and the Tokyo Olympics, due to get under way in July.