All is now set for the commencement of the 2021 season of the Higher Institution Football League (HIFL), set to kick off with preliminary/qualifying rounds in April.
30 accredited universities from across the country would lock horns in the collegiate football league
Speaking during the international press conference yesterday in Lagos, the director, PACE Sports and Entertainment Marketing Ltd, Sola Fijabi, said preparations are in top gear to ensure that lovers of football in the country enjoy the best of football this season.
He said, “We have had a series of consultations with our partners, the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA), sponsors and other relevant stakeholders across the board and we are glad to have come to a consensus that we can go ahead with the 2021 football season. We have also studied international football games and how they have been able to pull off the games despite the restrictions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. With this, we were optimistic that we have a strategy that will lead to a successful season.”
In his remark, the President, Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA), Prof Stephen Hamafyelto commended the organisers as he declared the readiness of the schools to host the games in line with COVID-19 protocols. “We once again congratulate the organisers on finding new and inventive ways to connect both our students and the larger school community via innovative ideas in 2020 and remain optimistic of a more holistic engagement this year as schools all over resume academic activities.” Hamafyelto said.
Explaining the modalities of the tournament flow, the chairman technical, NUGA/HIFL, Prof Yakasai Musa, said that following the 29 accredited universities from 2020 in which progress was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coming to this season, “those that were accredited last year with now addition of University of Benin’s UNIBEN Royals to make 30 universities, are those participating as the students haven’t graduated yet. However, we would be updating their records on the platform of the HIFL portal in a way to ensure the students that were accreditated are still on ground, and also curbing cheating.”
LEADERSHIP Sport gathered that among those 30 university teams, the last four of the previous tournament automatically qualify for the round of 16. The other 26 teams will be grouped into five zones, each zones having five teams, and each slugging it out to produce two winners with an addition of two best losers; thus joining defending champions, University of Calabar’s UNICAL Malabites, UAM Tillers, UNILORIN Warriors and OAU Giants, to complete the number of teams for the tournament proper consisting of 16 teams.
In those five zonal preliminary rounds, Lagos State University (LASU) will be the host ground for the qualifying rounds of other five teams in that southwest geopolitical zone, including LASU Blazers to make six in that zone; BUK Stallions’ Bayero University Kano, to host the northwest games; UNIBEN the host ground for teams in the southsouth; FUTMINNA Transformers’ Federal University of Technology Minna hosting the north-central teams/universities; and UNIUYO Tuskites ground hosting others. The round of 16 will be broken into four groups to form a league of home-and-away basis where two teams qualify to the knock-out round.
It would be recalled that physical games could not be held for HIFL in 2020 due to the lockdown and extensive restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.