By Ade Ojeikere
Those fable tellers mouthing the many gains of the domestic league are looking for where to cover their faces in shame. All the illusory permutations about money which would come into the coffers of the league have melted away like ice-cream under the sun. It has suddenly dawned on those advocates that they may have been scammed. Other facets of the league which have dared to raise their voices haven’t been able to do anything that would jolt the organisers.
Suddenly, the tiny thread holding the rickety league together is about to snap with the practitioners threatening to sit at home to expose the folly and tales of the organisers. The match referees have vowed not to step onto any pitch to handle games except their indemnities running into millions of naira in the last two seasons were paid in full. Previous attempts to paper the cracks in the league have fallen belly up.
The folly of getting Nigerian players in Europe to show off videos of them watching the domestic games wherever they were stares the organisers like a sore thumb. The videos have gone blank. No sound, no images and no side comments from our gullible players who ought to have told their mentors that it isn’t the way live games are shown on television in Europe.
The organisers in their characteristic style of playing god announced at the end of easily the worst league competition held in this country that the second stanza would begin at a date they later changed. And like the local clubs noted when the new movement of the resumption date to May 9, was publicised again, moving dates of matches is normal with the league organisers. What a shame.
Would the second stanza begin on May 9? It is looking like a mirage except the referees go back on their promise to down tools. A few clubs won’t be surprised if the referees swallow their vomits with relish and return to the field with all its abnormalities, debts, and threats to referees’ lives by fans who ought to be locked out, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. A prominent club chairman laughed his hearts out when told that referees were planning a showdown with the league organisers. He hinged his foolery of the referees on the fact that they make more money from their unhealthy relationships with some rich clubs than what they would receive per game as indemnities. No prize for guessing that the referees handled Wednesday evening’s Oriental derby between Enyimba FC and IfeanyiUbah FC in Aba.
IfeanyiUbah shot into a 2-0 advantage but watched in disbelieve how the People’s Elephant rallied very hard to end the tie at dusk 2-2.
Expectedly, feelers available to this writer showed that Pinnick met with the club chairmen on Thursday night to do an appraisal of the league’s events and stories around the league since it began last year to arrest some of the inherent problems associated with the game in the last five years. Thursday meeting with the club chairmen in Abuja provided the platform for Pinnick to sit with Davidson Owumi and the organisers’ boss over the delay in implementing the federation’s Annual General Assembly (AGA) in Abeokuta last year where it was announced that Owumi had been given the job as the CEO of the league competition.
Can these organisers work with Owumi? We wait. Owumi’s presence in the running of the league would take all the pressure from the players union on the NFF.
Feelers from the meeting which ended on Friday morning confirmed the fact that Owumi is the league’s CEO, as revealed to club chairmen during the meeting. The missing link is that Owumi cannot assume the position because of a paucity of funds. Myopic thought because an enterprising body ought to have used this problem to test Owumi’s abilities to make the league solvent. Not so for those who only know how to spend government subventions. Is it not strange that the clubs were told of a paucity of funds yet they didn’t know what to do to the leadership or is it management? A more progressive group ought to have called for the organisers’ resignation since they have been hearing this reason in the last four years.
Now, this writer knows that these club chairmen are the problems with the league since they forgot to demand their entitlements which are in arrears of over three years. Will you blame them when the real owners of the teams – the governors don’t ask the right questions at the beginning of each new season? As far as they are concerned the league should continue so that the government cash which comes in quarters is paid. The referees are trying to be difficult but with the chairmen backing the management, one won’t be surprised if the games are played from this Sunday.
What is apparent is that for the third consecutive league season, Nigeria’s representatives as winners of the domestic league may be chosen through boardroom permutations, not on the field of play. Whispers suggest that CAF may soon call for the countries’ representatives because it is clear that Nigeria won’t finish her league competition early unlike others in the continent. The most disappointing scenario from these disturbing tendencies by the league organisers is that they also have the impudence to fix long mid-term breaks even when the competitions begin very late. A league body that opted to stop the country’s league competition because the body’s chieftains wanted to be at the 2018 World Cup in Russia ought to have been sacked if the clubs knew their onions. It didn’t matter to those self-serving chieftains that only one home-based goalkeeper was in the country’s squad, making their trip to Russia a jamboree.
Club chairmen and the hierarchy of the country’s football met on Thursday night with words rife before the session started that the organisers were taken aback by the referees’ decision not to step onto any pitch to handle matches. A game was played on Wednesday in Aba, with referees but it appears that the match arbiters have closed shop, necessitating the night session. How come the organisers are broke on a venture they claimed so much expertise in?
Did they not announce many sponsorship packages which they said would resolve some of the issues of the league? What happened to the television package which they celebrated with glee? Where are those Super Eagles players who acknowledged watching the games in Europe? Shouldn’t they raise the alarm now that they aren’t able to watch the home games on television in Europe?
How do people announce a package, get it on stream in the country’s biggest network, then like a thief at night it goes off and nobody is asking questions over it sudden extinction? Only in Nigeria can this happen. How do the organisers expect would-be investors to listen to their pitches with this kind of miserable antecedent? How could a deal have been struck without either party heading for the courts to seek redress? Or wasn’t there a package for television? The questions are many but the answers as far and wide apart as the dentition of a 100-year old person.
One doesn’t know what the organisers show to prospecting firms willing to do business with them. Would it not have been better to show them recorded programmes of the league to appreciate what they stand to gain in a partnership? Will firms be excited to associate their brands with the game when the benefits of such unions are not documented? I’m sure the organisers dare not show games where referees are battered. They also won’t show videos of crowd violence with fans running through teargas.
For any venture to attract good funding, it should be packaged to look attractive. But with the spate of violence at venues, nobody will do sports business with the league until hoodlums are chased away from the stadia. The carnage at the stadium may dissuade spectators from watching games. Nobody will bring his family to the stadium only to scamper out of the place as violence breaks out.
I don’t subscribe to the view that we should introduce soldiers at match venues. They are no battlefronts. Stewards and those associated with keeping the stadium peaceful should be made to do their jobs; negligent ones should be axed. Many jobless Nigerians will be happy to land this kind of job.
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