2023 NPFL shudders to life despite unresolved issues

After a seven-month hiatus, the 2022/23 Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) season kicked off with a single match last Sunday at the ‘Nest of Champions’, Uyo…

After a seven-month hiatus, the 2022/23 Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) season kicked off with a single game last Sunday at the ‘Nest of Champions’, Uyo, where returnees Bendel Insurance caused a huge stir. surprise by beating the hosts Akwa United 2-0.

The remaining matches of week one will be played this weekend at approved match venues to signal the full start of the 2023 NPFL season.

As has become the norm, this season was also unable to resume at the same time with other leagues around the world due to various factors including the sudden scrapping of the League Management Company (LMC).

It will be remembered that a few weeks after the 2021/22 season ended, the LMC, which is the organization that governed the NPFL for almost 10 years, was dissolved by the Federal Government in September.

The Federal Ministry for Youth Development and Sport had categorically declared the LMC to be “illegal” and not recognized by the Federal Government.

The Sports Ministry therefore created an Interim Management Committee (IMC) headed by a former Director General of the defunct National Sports Commission (NSC), Hon, Gbenga Elegbeleye, to reposition the elite league.

After the controversies that greeted the decision to scrap the LMC, it took a long time for the new league body to put its acts together for the new season to resume.

One of the biggest challenges the committee faced was getting all 20 clubs to agree to its decision to adopt an abbreviated league format for the 2023 NPFL season.

The IMC said only an abbreviated league would finish in time for the national one to start the 2023/2024 season in August at the same time as the world’s advanced soccer leagues.

Although most of the clubs threatened to withdraw from the league, the timely intervention of NFF President Ibrahim Musa Gusau and other stakeholders in the matchup helped settle the contentious issue.

In an attempt to defuse the tension and reassert his authority, Gusau defended the IMC’s decision, saying: “The question of playing a shortened league is a matter of necessity. We’re talking to people who are going to contribute money to the league and they want us to make sure that we at least get our league to the way it’s run in other parts of the world.

“So we need to take certain steps before we can get there. Ending our league in May doesn’t mean it stops there. That is not the only problem. The problem here is that we have to start the next season in August. There is no going back on it.”

The peaceful resolution of the matter paved the way for the league to officially resume last Sunday in Uyo, the hometown of one of the IMC members, Paul Bassey, who is also the chairman of Akwa United.

However, even though the league’s new season will come to life today with the remaining matches of Week One, it’s still not uhuru as the IMC, while rushing to get the league started, failed to address some of the perennial issues. that have continued to haunt the domestic league.

For example, over the years Nigerians have been unable to follow the league on television due to a lack of sponsorship. When the IMC took over, the body stated that the league was to be broadcast live on NTA.

Elegbeleye, however, is optimistic that the shortened NPFL 2023 season will be broadcast live to viewers around the world.

“We already have many sponsors who will make it possible for the league to be broadcast on television. However, we still need to inform the NFF about the sponsorship. I can tell everyone that the league this season will be higher than what we are used to, ”he insisted.

In keeping with their commitment to making the league viable and TV-friendly, some clubs have banned play on their own territory because they failed to comply with the club’s licensing requirement.

Also, despite the IMC’s tough stance on licensing clubs as a prerequisite for league participation, not all clubs have fully complied.

The seven-time champions Rangers, Lobi Stars, Nasarawa United, Kwara United and Niger Tornadoes will play their home games away from home and have been allocated alternative venues, as per IMC approval.

Apart from having poor playing fields, almost all clubs have not been able to sufficiently demonstrate full compliance with the remuneration and other welfare packages for their players and officials as stipulated.

A former Enugu Rangers team manager, lawyer Amobi Ezeaku, has provided important advice to clubs on the importance of taking club licensing rules seriously, as they serve as the foundation of contemporary football across the globe. world.

“Clubs must take the regulation of club licenses seriously. Club licensing is at the root of modern football.

“In North Africa and Europe, club licenses regulate the game, so you have to make sure you meet infrastructure criteria, make sure you meet administrative person criteria, stadium criteria and financial criteria for be able to play”

“The clubs should stop paying lip service. Your players must be insured. It’s not rocket science, you have to look within.

“You have to look at the roots and do what you have to do. This is a new era for Nigerian football. If we do our league well, everything else will work well,” he told Trust Sports.

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