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Thursday, 16 July 2020

WHY THE NIGERIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE IS DYING?



.       Photo by Football live

Chinecherem Ubaka


Sports is a sector that generates billions of dollars annually in the world. Every stakeholder in the sports sector chain can testify to the foregoing. Infact, sports is now a profession that requires special skills especially with regards to sports management, sports law, sports consulting e.t.c. For instance, in football, 
the English Premier League began in 1992 and within it's twenty-eight(28) years of existence it has grown to be a tough competition that, sponsors, investors, players, stakeholders, analysts and ethusiasts look forward every season with so much alacrity. This is because they have a system, consequently, there is a lot of money involved.

The Nigerian Professional Football league (NPFL) has about 20 teams:  Enugu Rangers; Rivers United; Willing Tourist; Ifeanyi Uba; Lobi Stars; Sunshine Stars; Kano Pillars; Elkanemi Warriors; Enyimba; Nassarawa United; Niger Tornadoes; Plateau United; Abia Warriors; Always United; Shooting Stars; MFM; Warri Wolves; Heartland; Ikorodu United; Giwa. In the Nigerian National League, we have about 42 teams consolidated into four divisions; Group A1, A2, B1 and B2 for the 2019/2020 season. 

The NPFL began in 1972 and sadly after about forty-eight(48) years of existence we can't proudly boast of our the football league. Why are Nigerian football leagues not booming. Why do Nigerians ditch the local leagues and go ahead to break their hearts over the English Premier League? What exactly are we doing wrongly?
Let's look at the following factors.

a. Sports Management: The NPFL is currently managed by a non-profit organization i.e. the League Management Company (LMC) which was established in 2013 with the major aim of acting as a middleman between the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and the participating clubs in  NPFL. This is similar to the structure we have in the UK, Germany and Spain. However, the LMC is faced with so many problems especially with regards ensuring stability in the NPFL.  The football calendar is very unstable. Consequently, broadcasting rights of the Nigerian Football is not encouraging. Nigerians barely have access to watch the local matches. Again, we witness corporate bodies with presence in Nigeria buying into the broadcasting rights of European football because they are obviously organised. Benson Chukwueke, during his 2016 NPFL review noted that "The Average Nigerian fan deserves more quality  football than what the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) has to offer as entertainment at the moment. The forgoing statement suggest that the NPFL is not worth watching because it lacks the intrigues and skills needed to entertain the viewers. This means that the LMC and management of the clubs are lacking the necessary spice needed in grooming our players.  Another reason why the efforts of the LMC towards revamping the NPFL is not visible lies in the fact that the communication channel between the clubs  and LMC is inefficient. 

b. Sports Education: Every person directly involved in the NPFL needs to be properly groomed and trained. One major feature of NPFL games is violence as well as aggressiveness on the part of the players. This can be curtailed when all parties are properly trained on the ethics of the game. The five major parties involved in NPFL are;  The LMC, the players, the club managers, the match officials and the Referees. The technical team too...we need to develop these people as well i.e. the coaches (football and fitness), performance analysts as well.

d. Sports Infrastructures: A tour on the Nation's sporting facilities will reveal a common quality i.e. poor management. This affects the player's commitment and  dedication. Little wonder why Rohr, the Nigerian Coach in trying to explain why only one home-based player was included in his list of players invited for the AFCON 2019 tournament in Egypt noted that "the league clubs lack facilities and techniques that their foreign counterparts possess, hence it's difficult for them to compete". Nigerian players are talented and grounded in ball control, ball walking, drills, ball handling, positioning on and off the ball, movements on and off the ball, etc. Nigerian players have put up sterling performances in several outings like  the 2013 African Cup, in South-Africa despite the fact that the stadium and sports facilities in Nigeria are not properly maintained and are rotting away. However, we can't  continue like this. These players need to be adequately catered for financially and in their welfare packages. Otherwise, we will keep experiencing a decline in the "player quality" of Nigerian footballers.

d. Sports attendance: Cheerleading contributes a lot towards boosting a player's morale. When spectators are few in number, the players enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the bangs and gongs of their fans. Local leagues are usually characterised by low turnout of the members of the supporter's clubs either due to lack of information, lack of interest, security and fan control. The LMC has failed in this regard. Sports attendance is a fundamental basis of sports management. You cannot list the success ingredients of a football club without including the fans of the club. A lot need to be done in this regard particularly with reference to publicity. Put the NPFL constantly in the face of Nigerians and Nigerian businesses so as to boost local participation. A dedicated publicity team is extremely necessary if we want to revamp the NPFL.

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