By Ade Ojeikere
The domestic league is dead. The clubs are slave camps. The country’s league seasons have no calendar. Weekly matches are marred by violence with the culprits (hoodlums, urchins etc) made to look like spirits due to inadequate security. Referees are beaten to pulp regularly because league venues don’t have close circuit televisions to track the beasts. Sadly, some of these battered referees don’t record their ordeal in their match reports, except such scenes happen in parts of the country where the media presence can overwhelm the influence of desperate club managers, owners and, sometimes, sports commissioners.
Rather than secure an official television station for the competition to help curb violence and carnage, the organisers watched in awe as the previous league television station stopped the contract. A proactive league board would have accepted what the previous television sponsor offered and secure an arrangement where others could either show the games live or record them to be shown later.
The composition of the board makes it difficult for the members to take binding decisions, especially punishing those who flout the body’s rules. The league board has taken a harvest of decisions with different interpretations, depending on the clout of the offending clubs. If a less influential team infringes on a law, it could get a five-match ban, with a decision to play outside the home state, for instance. If a bigger team flouts the same law, the referees would be punished for ineptitude and the offending club’s fans prevented from watching the next three matches.
A disturbing example was the ban imposed on Kano Pillars’ captain for his unsportsmanlike conduct during the Super 4 game against Rangers at the Agege Stadium in June, 2019. Instead of banning the player from all competitions, the board stylishly allowed the Pillars’ star the opportunity of playing in the country’s oldest football competition, the Challenge Cup, which is now known as the Aiteo Cup. It is only in Nigeria that such a thing can happen because we politicise everything.
Well managed league boards in Africa and Europe have begun, with the players sure of the season’s termination date, unlike ours which has become a league without end. It only ends at the dictates of the organisers, who are quick to adopt short cuts for the competition to end. Nigeria is the only league where clubs dictate how the season should end.
When the organisers are not talking about the now fraudulent contraption called abridged league to hide their ineptitude, demoted clubs form a clique which canvasses that those relegated last season should remain.
Our clueless administrators fall into the trap by extending the number of clubs in the elite class. It is a shameful circus of how the leagues shouldn’t be prosecuted. The organisers take delight in shifting the commencement dates of the competition, the recent being the disgraceful pronouncement that this 2019/2020 season won’t start because there are no sponsors. Isn’t it disheartening that the players have trained for several months without kicking the ball in any competition. Poor lads.
Payment of players’, coaches’, officials’ and ancillary staff’s is almost forbidden. The so called administrators of the beautiful game (now ugly in Nigeria) are unperturbed about the sad development which turned our players into beggars and emergency cab drivers for those who have cars in order to eke out a living. Unfortunately, the organisers cannot secure a sponsor for the league. They drove away the sponsors they met in the league because of their tardy administrative style.
Companies don’t work in a vacuum. A league without a calendar which will be complied with can’t get a sponsor. A league where administrators cannot stem the tide of violence at match venues is doomed because no firm wants its products and services enmeshed in controversies. A league where the target audience of sponsors (the fans) are scared of attending matches cannot generate cash internally for the clubs and for itself.
A league where fans run through tear gas fired by security operatives to prevent mayhem isn’t one to attract positive comments from the globe. A league whose fixtures can be changed for spurious reasons, such as going to watch the World Cup, when only one goalkeeper in the domestic league makes the Super Eagles’ squad, underscores the organisers’ poor knowledge of growing the game. After all, matches weren’t played every day. Besides, World Cup fixtures were known months before the competition began.
Sadly, our football chieftains who gloat around the country over their feats as match commissioners in FIFA and CAF competitions have not been able to implement the objective of using the domestic game as the nursery for the Golden Eaglets (through clubs’ feeder teams), Flying Eagles, Olympic Eagles, CHAN Eagles and Super Eagles. It suits them more to woo Nigeria-born lads in Europe and the Diaspora than to supervise the local game to produce more stars like we had in the past.
To underscore the importance FIFA attaches to the local game, Enyimba FC and Ifeanyi Ubah FC goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa brought into the coffers of both clubs $237, 720 (N86 million) following the Super Eagles exit from the group stage as they failed to make it out of the group containing eventual finalist Croatia, familiar foes Argentina and debutants Iceland. Imagine if any Nigerian club had up to five home-based players in the Eagles for the World Cup? Simply multiply N43 million by five (N215 million from FIFA). Good money? Sure, but do our football organisers think this way?
A league where touts sell match tickets at the gate yet the organisers don’t know why there is carnage. A league where 50 wiry security operatives with batons are trying to stop 3000 rampaging fans from beating up a referee, shows who the organisers are – jesters.
When a referee is killed, we will constitute panels to find out how it happened, who did it, why and how? Innocent souls will be arrested while the roughnecks will be walking the streets, free as air, with instructions from their principals not be seen around any stadium. Of course, the noise over the dastardly act won’t last long; it will be buried with the victim whose family will be left to bear the burden of losing their loved one.
Nothing seems to be new because these same characters run the competition yearly. Those who run the domestic game have the penchant for signing MOUs. They enjoy listening to themselves. Those with dissenting views don’t know what it takes to run the game. But this writer won’t give up until the right personnel are put in place.
The first thing that stadia where games are played need urgently are CCTVs which can’t be destroyed to cover up malpractices. Besides, any stadium that is slated to host games must build special exit gates that will make it absolutely impossible to access the referees before, during and after matches. Any harm inflicted on match referees will translate to 10 points deduction from the offender’s total. Such a defaulting club should not be allowed to play in that venue for one year.
With a live coverage of the domestic league, it will be easier to identify where a problem began. Those running the league met an existing television right sponsor and a title owner of the league. What happened to these two bodies which funded the operations of the organising body?
Referees should be encouraged to sue clubs which send touts to beat them. The referees’ body should secure lawyers for them and refuse to discontinue such cases, no matter whose ox is gored. Asking clubs to pay assaulted referees’ hospital bills is not enough.
A league whose representatives at the continental level are beaten at home by less-fancied clubs in another country should attract the ire of the organisers. Not so here. Nothing changes yearly. A league where new winners keep recycling players who failed with former winners isn’t one to celebrate. Except the league is run properly and clubs are compelled to have feeder teams and competitions instituted for them to play games, the league cannot perform its role of developing players for the national teams.
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