Editorial

Sports ministry and restart conditions

At the weekend, the League Management Committee (LMC) rolled out financial regulation conditions for the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) teams to submit season licensing applications which will be verified before a decision will be taken.

 

We recall that the elite domestic football league in Nigeria was officially transformed from amateur to professional cadre in 1990. Sadly, the transition exercise was rushed such that the clubs failed to meet the conditions set by the regulatory body for their participation in the league.

 

Till date, many of the clubs are not in the Nigerian Stock Exchange, many do not have functional offices or club houses while some cannot even boast of a very good playing field. Regrettably, in 30 years, it has been tough as these elite clubs also struggle to pay the salaries of players just as the general welfare of the players are not well taken care of.

 

The logistics they go through especially on the roads from one venue to the other are not good for the players. Teams travel over 24 hours in some cases to honour games and with little rest time before match time. Some teams travel in the night to cut cost of hotel accommodation.

 

The LMC is insisting on a solid financial base to ensure the players are not being owed salaries as we are currently experiencing with Heartland Football club of Owerri. Each team is to provide evidence from September 18 that it is not indebted to players, agents or anyone in the past two years.

 

In fact, the ministry wants much more than this and that is why both parties and the chieftains of the NFF must meet to discuss the way forward for the country’s football.

 

Interestingly, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is also taking steps to ensure better tidings for the domestic league. Dare wrote on his Twitter handle a week ago that modern football is business and we should be ready to take it that way. He rolled out conditions for the elite teams to meet in the NPFL before the proposed kick off is activated.

 

The plan is to make the nation’s football leagues better and put it at par with others around the world. Dare said his desire was to see the Nigerian leagues grow beyond the current state with rapid transformation through proper licensing, and financial control. The minister said: “We have a clear plan and vision. We are dogged in working to fulfil them leveraging on public and private financing to achieve our goal.

 

We are committed to make changes that would position our league for the best. “Infrastructure renewal is our ultimate goal to ensure television friendly output that will encourage investors to put their money in a product that is quite attractive, this boils down to professionalism of all stakeholders,” the minister said.

 

We believe this is a tough call for the teams and also the LMC to implement. In addition, each of the teams is expected to have U-16 team, open two new bank accounts and submit quarterly returns of some documents by the clubs.

 

They should also deposit a huge sum of money before league kickoff and activate the insurance of players, coaches alongside registration for pension. These are very good ideas but how to implement these is the problem. However, these are not fresh only that the LMC has been weak or rather flexible in its implementation. However, we make bold to say the ministry should have invited the LMC for talks on the problems over the years and how best to tackle the issues now.

 

In this era of COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that the testing of players and officials should form part of the current discourse but this is not so. There should be flexibility in certain areas so that the domestic league can bounce back. One expects that the area of title sponsorship and getting the league on television should form part of the ongoing reforms.

 

The template coming from ministry and the LMC are not new, but the best way to implement these conditions is the main issue all the authorities should look into especially the minister. In 2014, the LMC stopped Nembe and Giwa FC from taking part in the league for not meeting conditions that decision was overruled by the then sports ministry.

 

This time, discussion should take place to resolve issues, if not, the domestic league will remain in limbo till next year if not more. A drastic decision could be taken to deliberately stop the league to put things right but there are many people who make daily dread from the league. We insist that reason must prevail to gradually look at ways to get things right.

 

There are technical issues to be sorted out and the ministry of sports must bring all the relevant authorities and stakeholders together to decide on how best to restart sports. Nigerians have strong passion for sports and with the restart in other parts of the world including Africa, urgent steps must be taken to get the country’s athletes back on track

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