Since the start of the sports lockdown in Tanzania over two months ago, I have repeatedly stressed in my sports columns the need for clubs’ managements and in particular, the Tanzania Football Federation to prepare for massive changes in soccer.
I wrote that the changes were likely to take place, starting from the pitch, and would involve the 17 Fifa rules and outside the pitch, contracts between players and their employers, clubs managements. I wrote what I wrote because I was strongly convinced that after the corona virus pandemic, things were not going to remain the same in the beautiful game. Why?
The corona virus pandemic had brought up a lot of challenges both on and off the pitch. In the English premier league, a scheduled league match between Arsenal and Manchester City was postponed in the eleventh hour after Arsenal’s team manager, Mikel Arteta, was found positive with corona virus.
The good thing about these developed countries is that they tend to learn very fast from challenges they have gone through and that is why even before many countries had started relaxing their respective lockdowns, Fifa came up with a decision that national soccer teams and clubs would be allowed for a while to field in five reserve players in one match.
Fifa’s decision was a result of having learnt a lesson or two from corona virus pandemic. In fact, Fifa’s decision was made long after I had suggested the need for those involved in soccer in Tanzania to start exploring areas they think need to make changes, legally, on account of lessons learnt from our sports lockdown.
I still hold that many more changes are likely to be made by Fifa and clubs, the world over, as a result of challenges brought about by the corona virus pandemic. But having written what I wrote and knowing the psyche of our people, and in particular, in sports; I’m quite sure most of them wondered what I was talking about.
In short, they did not take what I had said seriously. And those I had addressed my fears on are likely to have ignored my advice. But on Monday this week, below is what the best player in the world was quoted to have said about the global sports lockdown on account of the emergency of corona virus.
“Like life, will never be the same again” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and caused the banning of mass gatherings in most countries, meaning football has had to take a back seat for several weeks amid the battle against the virus.
There are plans for a return to certain normality in the coming weeks, however, with several major football leagues in Europe having either restarted or are planning to resume their 2019-20 seasons. La Liga is scheduled to start again on June 11, with Messi’s Barcelona aiming to maintain their two-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the table.
However, Messi has admitted it is tricky to focus on football given the immense impact of coronavirus, speaking out about the “frustration” of being unable to save or protect loved ones, and his belief that football - as with the rest of life - will have to face up to enormous changes because of the pandemic.
Messi told El Pais: “Most of us are left with doubts about what the world is going to be like after everything that has happened. Beyond the confinement and the situation that took us by surprise, many people had a really hard time because this situation affected them in some way, as it happened with all those who lost their family and friends and could not even see them.
“I think there were a lot of negative things in this crisis, but there can be nothing worse than losing the people you love the most, that creates enormous frustration for me and seems to me the most unfair thing of all. “Soccer, like life in general, I think will never be the same.”
Despite the immense toll the lockdown has taken mentally and physically on players, they will return to action in Spain in a couple of weeks, as Messi’s team-mate Luis Suarez says Barcelona remain as determined as ever to “win all we can”.
Now if Messi says football will never be the same again, and that changes will take place to address challenges brought about by Covid 19, who else should say that for the world to act?