By Ikeddy Isigzo
IF you were around in 1990 when the professional football league began, you will be ashamed about what is happening. The extent of amateurism that the league has attained since then has negated almost every reason for beginning the league.
The lofty ambitions of each team having its own stadium by 2000, the extensive documentation of requirements from teams – medical and insurance facilities for their players, financial provisions expected of the teams for their continued stay in the professional league – were some of the clear signals of the standards of the league.
Sponsorship then was a miniscule of the billions of Naira that one hears these days. Almost all the teams belonged to States that used public funds in maintaining them. The expectation was that over time ownership of the teams would move to private hands.
We heard talks of the teams being quoted in the Stock Exchange. There was a belief that they had enough supporters who had enough money to pool resources to run the clubs. The idea of the Stock Exchange was an indication that the teams were intended to run as businesses.
Barely two years into this experiment that was not without its hiccups, something happened. Decree 101 was enacted. It was a contraction of Decree 10 (professional league) and Decree 11 (amateur league) of 1990. While Decree 10 created the professional league and granted it adequate autonomy, Decree 101 reversed everything. It retrieved the powers of government over football and harnessed them under the Minister of Sports or his agents.
We entered the era of overwhelming government control of football. We have not recovered from it, 19 years on, no matter pretences to the contrary. Those who know would say that football has grown, but it is the sort of growth that has attracted the wrong crowds – for the wrong reasons.
Some of the crowds realise the capacities of football to provide for their needs whether the game grows or groans. They worked hard at minimising public contributions to the game. The clear intention was to warehouse more powers for government for use of football power mongers, who acted on behalf of government.
Things keep worsening. The league is run in fits, with its officials more in court to stake their right to office than being at work. The first signs that the league is not a business show in the tardy ways it negotiates contracts. Without transparency in the sponsorship contract, clubs get pittance after the league meets commitments on overheads. The poor leadership of the league reflects brightly on the clubs.
Clubs do not meet their financial obligations to their players. Owing players’ salaries, with arrears sometimes running into months, is the norm. These days, governments motivate state teams by rewarding them with promises of paying sign on fees or arrears of match bonuses.
When Iwuanyanwu Nationale won the Confederation Cup two weeks ago, one of their applauded rewards was the Imo State Government’s promise to pay their sign on fee. As the name indicates, the money should have been paid as the players were being recruited for the season.
There are no effective contracts in 2011. In 1990, the rule was for the clubs to deposit all contracts with the league board before the season began.
How are clubs to survive when they do not make enough money from the league to fuel the vehicles that take their players to their league engagements across the country? From where are they to get resources to pay their players and meet other obligations? They talk of sponsorships glibly.
Like the league, clubs are not run as businesses. It is doubtful if any of them has a business plan. They depend either on governments or on their individual owners to pay their way when they can.
Lately, you will hear about inconclusive league season, nobody being sure how many teams w ill be promoted or demoted after the contest and innumerable allegations of corruption, match fixing and unsurprisingly, the inability of the league board to do something about the myriad of challenges.
All these reflect on the league such that there is a colossal collapse in the quality of players it produces with spiral consequences that include debilitation of the national teams and depletion of Nigeria’s presence in foreign leagues where players hone their competitiveness.
Hopes still abound for the league if its operators address its challenges and brace themselves to compete with the best leagues in the world.
CONDOLENCES to Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu – who took the then Spartans through the processes of transformation to a professional team when the league began – on the passing on of his wife Lady Eudora. May the Almighty grant you the strength to go through this challenging phase of life.
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