The best way to begin this new phase of my Sports journalism journey is to express my appreciation to everyone for all the well wishes, and also show gratitude to this amazing ACLSports family for adding me to their already star studded line up.
So, regularly, I will get the opportunity to put my thoughts together on important issues on this platform.
I hope to make some sense and help to bring about positive changes for our common good.
In this very first write up, I will start with a subject very dear to my heart….the Nigeria Professional Football League(NPFL).
It is so heartwarming to have the NPFL back after so much deliberations, back and forth and near impossible postulations. Our top flight league has taken off this season and all looks good, at least for now. I hope things can stay stable and even get better as the season progresses.
I have picked five(5) key challenges that could determine the level of success we may achieve in the league this season…I have listed them out in my own order of importance.
- Covid 19.
This is easily the biggest challenge to Sports globally. This pandemic singlehandedly crippled the world last year. All major events and leagues went on their knees.
Can it happen again? Yes…it can. Will it?…I hope not.
For us in these parts, the issues that should keep us on our feet(while we await the vaccines, of course) are the ways to ensure the virus is kept at bay. How to ensure the safety of players, coaches, officials and fans.
Monitoring the adherence to health and safety protocols, regular testing and hoping that these tests and the accompanying results are not fake.
We have to help the clubs to find a way to make all of these procedures financially sustainable.
In this light, I commend the Nigeria Football Federation(NFF) for setting up a special task force to address these matters…I hope the taskforce is able to meet all its terms of reference and help to keep our domestic football in good health.
- NPFL.TV and NTA.
This is a potential game changer for Nigerian football, even for Nigerian sports generally.
For some seasons, the league was not seen on any broadcast platform. Followers of the league could only see a few short video highlights of games from the social media handles of some clubs. Everybody was left yearning for live broadcasts.
Now we have something to keep us excited. The largest Television network in Africa, as the Nigeria Television Authority(NTA) calls itself, now beams live matches….but that is not all. The organisers of the league(League Management Company, LMC)and Redstrike, their technical partners launched an application(app) NPFL.TV that streams live games. The experience, although not without some hitches, has been phenomenal.
The production of the games on this app NPFL.TV has been very good. The picture quality, presentation and commentaries are super. I hope this is sustained and even improved upon.
I also hope that the number of games broadcast per matchday steadily increases. A top official of the LMC told me the plan is to have many more games shown live and non live games will be packaged into comprehensive highlights. So at least, all games will be captured on camera on the long run.
I hear that Redstrike, the technical partners of the LMC haven’t even deployed all their expertise yet..so there should be some hope for the future.
A critical question is how this leads to revenue generation for all those involved.
Expectedly, there have been projections about the number of billions of Naira this has the potential to fetch the league….some think it is achievable, others don’t….I leave the league administrators and their partners to prove these people right or wrong.
However, to make things happen, there must be;
- Consistency in the frequency and quality of broadcasts. B. Aggressive, creative and strategic marketing of the NPFL.TVapp to all classes of people across all platforms. C. Production of top quality NPFL driven content and programmes.
I have been told that the plan is for the League Management Company(LMC) to own these broadcast rights, content and programmes and share them to interested partners and platforms….very audacious plans indeed…but without doubt, growing the interest of people in the league is central to all these seeing the light of day.
I hope these things work out in the interest of Nigerian football.
If the broadcast plans highlighted above turn out as projected, one of the immediate benefits will be improved officiating. Like every human engagement, officiating is rarely perfect. We see some questionable calls in the major leagues of the world, or in ‘saner climes’ as they call them.
We may not have perfectly flawless refereeing in the NPFL but we can demand something close to it.
Providing adequate security for our referees before, during and after every game in not negotiable. Paying their indemnities and punishing security breaches around them very severely would also send a strong message.
After doing all these then it can be justified if erring and incompetent arbiters are not spared the rod.
With improved, top quality officiating will come an improved standard of football played in the league.
Eighteen (18) out of the Twenty(20)clubs in the NPFL are owned by State Governments…this represents about Ninety percent(90%).
I am wondering how State Governments Intend to pull through with funding their clubs ADEQUATELY this season.
Will they improve the level of funding?…maintain or reduce it? Let us see what happens….I have the following posers anyway;
* How will the clubs cope if there is a massive reduction in the levels of funding from their sponsors?
*How will the few (2) private NPFL clubs handle the present economic challenges and realities?
*What happens when clubs default and are unable to meet up contractual and financial obligations to their coaches, players and staff?
*Will there be palliatives from FIFA, CAF and NFF again this year?
Will the Federal or even State Governments give some support to football as an essential service, just to keep the business of the league alive. These are interesting times indeed.
It is high time we started to focus seriously on the structure and professionalism of club football in Nigeria.
The enforcers of the rules, the NFF and LMC, need to look the club administrators in the face to tell them some hard home truths.
* What progress are we making with the enforcement of the club licensing requirements since we started ‘mouthing’ them over seven years ago?
* When are we seeing an end to the arbitrary slashing of players’ salaries, breaching of the contracts of coaches, players and officials?
* Are there financial guarantees in place should hard times hit any club?
*How many clubs treat their players as the assets that they are? And try to make them to work in the most conducive environment possible?
I commend the management of Akwa United for making their players to travel in comfort (by air for away games to places that are over a certain number of hours by road)…I hope many other clubs would follow this good example.
* How many of our clubs have proper youth football development structures in place?
The biggest and most important stakeholders in Nigerian football are the players and the clubs. If we successfully fix club football, we have fixed our nation’s football.
Who wins #NPFL21? I am tipping Rangers International FC of Enugu to win the #NPFL21.
Plateau United, Rivers United and Enyimba will be serious title challengers while Akwa United, Lobi Stars and Kano Pillars are my dark horses.
Will I hit bull’s eye at the end of the season?
Two great men.
Hon. Nduka Irabor and Chief Davidson Owumi.
Take a bow Hon. Nduka Irabor for your selfless service to Nigerian football, first as the Chairman of the League Management Company and later as its Chief Executive Officer(CEO). Your passion for the game is infectious, and your drive and contributions unforgettable. Thank you sir.
To ‘senior’ Davidson Owumi, the new CEO. You have always been a ‘golden boy’ of the league. You excelled as a player and have made even greater impact as an administrator with Rangers International FC and Warri Wolves. Your brief stint as NPL Chairman in 2010/2011 is still very fresh in the minds of many. Go and make positive impact Owumi.