After months and weeks of uncertainties, and the spate of irregularities that almost marred top flight football and other Leagues, in the country, the 16 months delay in restarting the NPFL, is now over.
The 2022/2023 Season will kick-off on Sunday, as the Nigeria Professional Football League, with 2021 Champions, Akwa United hosting Bendel Insurance of Benin, at the Godswill Apkabio International Stadium, in Uyo.
Prior to today, the Nigeria Football Federation, as the body in charge of regulating all organised football related activities in the country, the Interim Management Committee of the League (IMC), and leadership of the Umbrella Body of Nigerian Referees (the NRA), held series of crisis meetings with a view to resolving the contentious and mitigating challenges, that seemed to take the league, hostage all this while.
One of the major outcome of these rounds of consultations, and showdown talks, was recorded on Wednesday, December 28, when the IMC, backed by the NFF successfully held the season-long draw for the League, despite protestations by majority of the 20 Club Administrators.
Almost at the same time, the Gbenga Elegbeleye led IMC played a cardinal role in bringing the leadership of the NRA to the negotiation table, after the arbiters had threatened to boycott the upcoming season, to protest the nearly half a billion naira, owed elite Referee in the NPFL for three long seasons.
In addition to promising to defray the backlog of unpaid match fees, estimated to be in the region of half a billion naira, in installments, the NFF President and IMC Chairman brought no fewer than 200 of these men and women in Black to Abuja, to reassure them that the worst was over, and their welfare and Wellbeing will henceforth be accorded the deserved attention it needed.
But most gratifying was the event of Wednesday January 4, when the NFF issued a circular reconstituting the Referees, Match Commissioners and Judicial Committees, in strict compliance to the guidelines of football’s world governing body (FIFA), for the organization of a virile and credible football league, by federations of Member Associations.
While the league takes off, it is hoped that it would not take long for any remaining encumbrances against putting the matches on Cable, Satellite and Terrestrial Television and Radio to be fully resolved, so that live NPFL games could return to the homes and vehicles of football loving Nigerians.
It is also Imperative for the IMC to continue to work hand-in-hand with Security Agents, State Football Associations, Club Administrators, and leadership of the various Supporters Clubs, to sustain the truce that eventually made way for the Season to commence, and eradicate hooliganism at our match venues, if the trills and frills of NPFL matches are to be savoured by majority of Nigerians, including the working class and decent families.
The sporting relevance of any football league, lies on its level of Integrity.
It is in this regards that most NPFL pundits believe the slightly upward adjustments in the indemnities and fee for transportation, as expressly approved by the NFF President, Ibrahim Gusau will move the elite Referees to bring on their A game, and help curtail sharp practices by reporting overzealous club officials, and their agents who are bent on manipulating match results to the appropriate bodies, for necessary action.
The NFF, IMC and Club Administrators should also take credit for eventually agreeing to an abridged format for the league.
While this will help in synchronising the NPFL with the calendar of top European leagues, i.e. August – May.
It will also help in arresting the unwanted distortions, brought about by players abandoning their clubs, to go for overseas trials, in the thick of the season.
Aside the .2 billion naira grant to be shared equally by the 20 top flight clubs, the cheering news is that unlike, the defending champions, Rivers United who got nothing from the IMC, the Champions of the upcoming season will in addition to a trophy and winners medals, and pocket N100 million.
Writing by Chinedum Ohanusi, former NPL Referee & Staff of Our Sports Directorate; Editing by Muzha Kucha