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League of shame

Ade Ojeikere
I wish our soccer administrators can forget about individual accolades and selfish ambitions so that the game could thrive. I wish they could encourage their wards, friends and relations to play the game. That way, they would appreciate why it has become expedient for them to truly develop the game since it belongs to the people. Football is a business everywhere else but Nigeria, simply because there aren’t benchmarks to determine who gets into the federation. Our football administrators have constituted themselves into being undertakers and would not resign, even with the broken roof on their heads. What a pity.
I wish our administrators had any iota of shame to recognise how badly they have run our soccer competitions into the doldrums, such that for the third consecutive season, the domestic league has been fraught with needless controversies due to the management’s failure. Rather than remain in the country to supervise the domestic league, our administrators flew to Russia to watch the World Cup games, forgetting that only one goalkeeper came out of the system. This senseless expedition to Russia resulted in the postponement of league matches such that it became difficult to end the league successfully.
The backlash is that our representatives to continental competitions had been awful with new comers whipping us at home. The flawed system is chiefly responsible for the dearth of talents in the local game and Nigeria’s woeful outing at CAF’s CHAN tournaments for home-grown players. it also means that none of our local stars can mount the podium to be decorated the best in Africa. Sadly, our administrators don’t give a toss about the decline.
Our leagues have ended with various nomenclatures starting with the arbitrary end to the Mundial season by declaring Lobi Stars winners without the trophy. Lobi was picked based on its placing on the table at that time. One would have thought that the administrators learned a few lessons from the last edition. Not with these folks, rather, a worse scenario emerged where the league was split into groups and the winner emerged from a Super 6. This disturbing system was applied after the league began. A case of shifting the goalpost after the match had started.
This season, another rule is being touted after the competition began with the seeming bizarre PPG system’s rules used to determine the winners, but abandoned when it came to determining the relegation teams. As kids,  we were taught in school that for you to balance any equation, what you do to one side of the equation should be applied to the other. Otherwise, the equation won’t balance. Anything short of this principle is fraudulent.
Unfortunately, we remain a country without a football calendar which makes the game rudderless. For us to have a seamless league, the organisers should develop a calendar which can’t be tampered with. The hiccups in the games start when the organisers develop cold feet in asking our continental representatives to play midweek matches after both legs of the CAF inter club competitions. the effect is that some clubs such as Enyimba FC of Aba, for instance, has five outstanding games due to this kind of visionless structure.
The argument by our soccer representatives for a shift in dates, especially when they lose such matches is bunkum. Clubs are required to sign close to 40 players annually. It behoves on these clubs to effectively use the 40-man slot to pick a very competitive squad where the second team would be as good, if not better than the main squad. No preference should be given to a representative with a lopsided squad. Fixtures should be drawn with pomp and ceremony and dates assigned to those continental cup matches, since their dates are already known.
We saw how Liverpool FC of England paraded its youth players including coaches to prosecute a quarter-final fixture against Aston Villa on away ground. Liverpool were beaten 5-0 and the homers eventually qualified for the finals of the Carabao Cup. Preference wasn’t given to Liverpool which had an international engagement. Again, the world witnessed how the organisers of European leagues toiled to restart the tournaments in the aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Europeans’ target was for the new season (2020/2021) not to be affected. They granted waivers in the area of transfers, not forgetting all thoughts on television rights. The Europeans proffered suggestions which captured all facets of the game, leaving their home governments with no option than to approve the games’ restart, provided they complied with the rules as stated in their proposals.
Any team which hides under the umbrella of missing its return flight to the country after international assignments should be walked over. Of course, these teams’ managements know the implications of two walk over matches. It means immediate relegation irrespective of where such team(s) finishes at the end of the season. The organisers must restore discipline to the system. It should start with applying the rules religiously such that no club feels it is bigger than others.
Nigeria has participated in previous CAF inter-club competitions and our banner carriers have complied with the rule of playing such postponed games the next mid-week. The presence of club owners among those who administer the game underscores the sinister arrangements we have seen since the exit of television coverage of the matches. What operates elsewhere should work here. Clubs don’t dictate how leagues should be run, if the administrators know their onions.
What should be of utmost concern to the organiser and the clubs is the need to get a credible television broadcast rights holder. The leagues globally are run through funds from television rights and their marketing windows available to the clubs and the league body. Any league without television rights is dead. Such a league is fraught with sharp practices where the highest bidders win the competition’s diadem. Winners from such flawed settings don’t win trophies against better organised teams and countries.
Our league organisers should use this period to get all the clubs to clear their debts, with the firm warning not to register any team with any outstanding for the new season. It doesn’t matter if only six teams comply with the directive. It leaves room for the eligible ones in the lower cadre to get promoted. This idea of glossing over rules enshrined in the league’s constitution won’t make the game run here as a business, even though state governors use their teams to settle their lackeys.
A domestic league without a regimented calendar won’t produce new stars, since they only know when the season begins without knowing when it would end.  We have in Nigeria, a league season without end, hence such contraptions as abridged leagues or a regional league competition, as a few purists are advocating for. How does anyone expect the league to produce new talents for the Super Eagles when the competition only starts when the organisers are pressurised to do so?
A league where the ambulance meant to handle emergencies is being pushed around the playing pitch while a player dies slowly should be disbanded. A league where the organisers enforce existing laws only after a player has died shouldn’t be allowed to kill more people.
Any stadium in Europe has medical equipment which could compete with what you have in first class hospitals, with staff of the same quality, not auxiliary medical attendants. The league organisers ought to have an official medical facility for those in the game, preferably one owned by the state or federal government.
Simply put, our stadia lack the capacity to handle emergencies. The number of exits at these stadia are not enough and so narrow such that it takes close to 40 minutes to empty any stadium in the country. The way the exits are built gives room for stampede if an emergency occurs. The ease with which fans crowd the pitches after matches endanger the lives of players and referees. Need I waste space to recall all the cases where referees and assistants were beaten groggy across the nation?
 
 








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