Top-flight football referees in Nigeria are contending with a critical crisis. Two major incidents that concern them have
Not that violence had been totally absent from club football, but to witness bloody incidents on two consecutive match-days at
The following week, a similar incident occurred in another NPFL game in Sagamu. This time, it was at the Gateway Stadium where newly-promoted Remo Stars drew 1-1 with visiting Insurance of Benin. Claiming that the referee, Bethel Nwanesi, and his assistants, A Nalado and B Salihu, disallowed their team’s goal, they descended on them. Viral photos of the attacks in the social media were shocking: the officials’ heads and back were covered in blood. This is criminality, not a show of support to a team. These fans should face the law.
Already, the Nigeria Referees Association has notified the League Management Company, which runs the NPFL, of its intention to withdraw the services of its members in the face of danger in the line of duty. “Nigerian referees taking part in the NPFL are on the verge of losing their lives at match venues if scenes witnessed so far from the violence venue are considered,” the NRA stated. This lamentation should provoke concrete action.
Violence is partly to blame for the dysfunction in the domestic game, where attendance has fallen drastically. The LMC must intervene decisively, as it is done in other football jurisdictions. Although it has handed down some punishment to the affected teams, at best, this has been a slap on the wrist. If not, the fans at the Gateway Stadium would not have contemplated their attempted murderous act so shortly after the Jos debacle.
This it did in 2017 when it banned nine Ifeanyi Ubah players for 12 matches each and two team officials for 19 matches each. The club received a fine of $4,900. It was ordered to pay $700 for each of the officials, exclusive of their medical bills. It was a tough decision but not out of place: on the pitch, the players and officials assaulted the referee, Nakura Auwal, after he gave winger King Osanga a red card in their 2-1 loss to Niger Tornadoes of Minna.
Acts of violence should have no place in football. They compromise and taint the outcome as they put match officials under pressure to adjudicate with fear, and scare away supporters and sponsors. This is why, globally, football administrators frown on it and descend heavily on offenders. Out there, in Europe, the smallest infractions attract weighty punishment. Therefore, the best way to rebuild the game, bring the fans back and turn the domestic game into a money-spinner and a major employer of labour is to strategise against the purveyors of violence who disguise as fans.
In France, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (the league body) has come down hard after last weekend’s Ligue 1 game between Marseille and Lille. A fan threw a firework from the stands, which exploded on the pitch. Consequently, the LFP has ordered Marseille to be playing behind closed doors. Similar infractions are met with tough sanctions in England. There, a fan has been banned by Tottenham after a club’s supporter threw banana skin at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their match with Arsenal last December.
Interestingly, while the game is at a crossroads here, it is fetching billions of dollars for European countries because it is managed professionally. According to the latest study by global accounting firm, Ernst & Young, English Premier League players paid a tax of £1.1 billion to the British Exchequer in the 2016/17 season. In total, the EPL and the 20 clubs generated £3.3 billion in tax for that season, contributing £7.6 billion to the British economy that year while supporting nearly 100,000 full-time jobs. Because of the EPL, 800,000 tourists visited that country in the 2013/14 season. That is a big economic boost.
For the domestic game to inch near that, the LMC should sanitise it thoroughly and run it professionally. It should not brook violence in any form – from fans or clubs. The LMC should mandate clubs to install closed circuit TV cameras and other technologies to capture troublesome fans. Clubs should improve on the quality of their stadia and put better policing in place.
…an Editorial by PUNCH