The crisis rocking the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) may well be a blessing in disguise.
Several attempts had been made to streamline the Nigerian football season with contemporary practice of running club competitions from August to May. We will recall the club versus country controversy which pops up whenever African stars are invited to national duty for Africa Cup of Nations in January, a crucial period for clubs in Europe and South America.
In view of this, the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) has resolved that from the next edition in 2019, the tournament will hold in June and July, which is the off-season for most of the world’s leagues. The club competitions – CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup – will also switch from a February to November schedule to an August to May calendar starting from 2019. The transition begins this year with the 2018/19 inter-club competitions, which kicks off in November this year and climaxes on June 1, 2019.
Meanwhile, the NFF and other stakeholders of the beautiful game in the country are worried about how not to miss the fast approaching deadline for next season’s CAF club competitions, given that our top flight league has 14 rounds of matches to go. On Monday, the NFF mandated its sub-committees (Organising, Technical and Development, Finance, Marketing, Football and Ethics, and Fairplay), to suggest the way out of meeting CAF’s October 15 deadline, when FAs are to submit entries for the two continental club competitions.
“The road-maps designed by these sub-committees would be thoroughly scrutinised by the Emergency Committee early next week with a view to approving and streamlining feasible work plans,” the NFF statement said.
At the heart of the matter is what the federation itself has identified as finding “a credible conclusion to the various leagues in this football season.” Staring us in the face is the reality that 14 Matchdays in the 2017/18 Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) can’t be completed in seven weeks, not forgetting the AITEO Cup, which still has at least five more stages to reach the finish line.
This is where the doctrine of necessity comes into play. Political actors adopted it to save the nation from constitutional crisis in 2010 when an ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua failed to transmit power to his deputy Dr Goodluck Jonathan, and almost grounded the country. The doctrine of necessity is hinged on extra-legal actions with the objective of restoring order.
If we go by the rules, we may have to ask the teams to play three matches per week to conclude the season before October 15. In a country as geographically massive as ours and with teams travelling by road, this is practically agreeing to a dead sentence for the players and officials.
The other option is to perhaps borrow the example of leagues like Scotland where teams are divided into two equal sections in the concluding phase of the season to determine the champions and relegated sides. By the time the 2017/18 NPFL was suspended ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, these were the 10 teams in the upper rung of the ladder: Lobi Stars, Akwa United, Kano Pillars, Enyimba, Plateau United, Niger Tornadoes, Katsina United, Abia United, Rivers United and Rangers. In the lower section were: MFM, Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors, Wikki Tourists, Kwara United, Go Round, FC IfeanyiUbah, Sunshine Stars, Yobe Desert Stars and Heartland.
If this option is accepted and the top 10 teams are made to complete the season facing themselves, they will not have the same number of matches since some of them had completed their head-to-head before the league went on recess. The outstanding fixtures among these 10 teams, for instance, will see Niger Tornadoes play eight matches, while Lobi Stars will have seven games. All the other teams have six outstanding matches, except Katsina United with five. A similar scenario applies for the bottom 10 teams. How then do we achieve a fair outcome when the teams don’t play equal number of matches?
This is the time for the team administrators to subsume their interests and act in the overall interest of Nigerian football. The NPFL should be considered to have ended, which means Lobi Stars, the top team at the time of the force majeure, should be crowned champions and immediately registered for the 2018/19 CAF Champions League. This will allow the football administrators time and energy to focus on completing the AITEO Cup, whose champions should emerge before October 15 and be fielded for the CAF Confederation Cup.
In the same light, no team should be relegated from any of the divisions or promoted to the upper level. Clubs and other stakeholders will lose revenue from gate-takings and sales, but it’s the sacrifice everyone has to pay to get our football back on track.
We can then work towards commencing the 2018/19 season in the next two months – allowing for transfer of players and officials. If we don’t have another man-made crisis, our football season should achieve the August to May calendar by next year.
Muyiwa Akintunde is a public relations consultant and sports enthusiast