Our league organisers are wrong again

I’ve no grudge against anyone organising the domestic league matches. I’m just a stickler to doing things properly. Footballers aren’t the kids of the rich; they are mainly the sons and daughters of the downtrodden who look forward to their wards doing well to change their status. Today, the Okochas, Kanus, Ayegbenis et al have gained international prominence due to the exploits of their wards in football. These families’ living conditions have changed for good.

This writer’s angst against the system rests with the dearth of talents in the 774 Local Government Areas, arising from the lack of facilities and absence of competitions to discover new players. The popular thinking is that without coaches, kids can’t do well in the game. Not exactly so. All you need to get kids to play soccer is to bounce the ball on the pitch. In fact, soccer is the cheapest game to run. It is one where even the fans will be willing to contribute their cash to satisfy their passion. Surprisingly, playgrounds which produced stars in the past have been built up as schools, such that many of the educational structures have no playgrounds for the kids to recreate.

It seems to me most strangely that Nigeria Professional Football League organisers could begin the new season with postponed matches for our representatives (Enugu Rangers International and Enyimba FC of Aba) in the CAF inter-club competitions. If there was a clash in dates, wouldn’t it have been better to shift the games to either midweek or by one week so that all matches are held  same weekend? After all, the fixtures of the continental competitions had been known since the draws were made.

For instance, during the European Champions League or Europa competition, clubs travel with the senior and junior teams. The youth teams play earlier in another UEFA competition before the main event, which features the big boys. Now, that is what proper planning looks like. It must be deliberate and systematic. It is not something you achieve overnight. Can we boast of having a league for the U19 or U21’s like we see with the Premier League youth league and across Europe? This is sad.

What it simply shows is that the organisers don’t watch how other soccer-crazy countries begin theirs with pomp and ceremony. How then would they expect corporate support when they lack the vision of packaging a product which they will showcase to the world on such an opening day. It is sickening to note that the league could commence without a sponsor and a television rights holder, in a country where there are many public and privately owned television and radio stations.

At the beginning of the Barclays English Premier League for this season, the league board published the new rules with vivid explanations, knowing that they were going to introduce the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). They also interpreted the new laws as they concern everyone. There were reviews well documented  at a press conference. This exercise ensured that nobody claimed ignorance of the new developments to infringe on the rules.

Nigerian league organisers have toiled to get the take-off cash for this competition but they should ensure that they package the competition in such a way that it will attract sponsors.  They should showcase the league on all media platforms, stating what sponsors can benefit from tying their products and services to the league. They should replicate what the Europeans have in place, beginning with recognising outstanding performers every week with prizes, where sponsors’ insignia are placed at the background while the media engage them. Such pictures downloaded in the media will raise the awareness of soccer lovers to troop to the stadia to watch games.

The organisers should tell Nigerians the type of competition they are playing. Subjecting teams to long haul trips round the country over 38 weeks is the standard practice. However, it doesn’t make sense for the four top teams to be asked to play another round robin series under the guise of Super Four. It makes a mockery of the entire process, if another competition is still required to determine the eventual winner of the league.

Read Also: Don’t delay election into Nigerian league boards, member tells NFF

The organisers know that the 38-match league format is fraught with sharp practices. This rubs off on the type of champions it produces. Instead of hiding behind one finger, which is what the Super Four contraption indicates, the organisers should correct the flaws by putting the right personnel in such critical aspects of the competition. The level of officiating should be top notch. Erring referees should face sanctions, including being stopped from handling games in the elite class.

The organisers should never allow the clubs pay for the referees’ indemnities and allowances. Club owners engineer the touts to intimidate the officials when things are not in their favour. Hoodlums and urchins are no spirits. They are known supporters of the home teams, who think it is their birthright to win – no matter how poorly their team plays. The organisers should visit all state police headquarters to get security operatives who will to man match venues. This system ensures that the referees are safe and can do their jobs without fear or favour. The organisers should not give the responsibility of protecting match officials to the home teams whose fans could go wild if they don’t win.

Referees will officiate well if they know that their safety is guaranteed. Yoyos who constitute themselves into nuisance and become security risks should be arrested and prosecuted to deter others.

Growing up in Benin City in those days, it was the fad to listen to our domestic league games’ commentaries on radio, even if you were watching a game live inside the Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia Stadium. Let me not waste space to dwell on these commentators’ prowess. I also won’t name them since their past contributions speak for them. For those who have gone to rest, may their souls find peace.

Without live broadcast of matches and radio commentaries, only God will save match officials, if the clubs are allowed to pay the referees’ match indemnities. That organisers may have quietly told  clubs to foot this bill raises the alarm over the quality of officiating since the referees know that the only way they can be treated fairly by some unscrupulous club owners is for them to ensure that such teams win their matches.

The world is technologically driven, such that things that the human eye cannot capture are caught on camera and used to enhance the quality of the game. It is a shame that our match venues have no CCTV to pick out people who break the laws of the game. It isn’t enough to task the two clubs to come with their video cameras. We have seen instances where the home side’s fans destroy the video recording of the away teams. If our stadia have CCTV, touts will think twice before attacking officials since they will easily be fished out for punishment.

There is also insurance of match officials. What insurance cover do match officials get? When a referee senses danger, he is forced to do the bidding of the home side. Indeed, the confidence that match officials in European leagues exhibit cannot be separated from the fact that they are insured.

Importantly, the economic status of those chosen as match officials needs to be considered. Will a well paid engineer who chooses refereeing as a hobby sell his integrity? This, to a large extent, assures us of the integrity of the referee because such officials see themselves as ambassadors of their professions. They are also aware that any embarrassment they bring to their profession will attract sanctions and other disciplinary measures. Such don’t exist here.

Perhaps we have also failed to examine the emotional stability of the referee. What is the psyche of the referee before the start of the match? What is his affinity to the opposition club who’s fortune may affect that of his own football club in relation to position and standing on the league table?


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