Nigeria Premier League Update: Crowd Troubles Threaten League

•Maigari, NFF boss

•Maigari, NFF boss

As the 2011/2012 Nigeria Premier League, NPL, hots up at various centres across the country, the league venues have been witnessing fans-related violence, which has forced some clubs not to play their matches.


•Maigari, NFF boss

On 5 March, the Disciplinary Committee of NPL, at the end of its emergency meeting held at the secretariat of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, in Abuja, had three points deducted from Kwara United of Ilorin Football Club. The decision was taken due to the trouble caused by their fans during their match against Sunshine Stars of Akure.


A statement from the Premier League read: “The Nigeria Premier League is disturbed over the unwarranted attack on referees, players and officials of the away team (Sunshine Stars FC), during the match involving Kwara United FC and Sunshine Stars FC played on Saturday, 3 March at Ilorin Township Stadium, where various degrees of injuries were sustained and vehicles were damaged, thereby, violating Article 4.3 of the 2011/2012 NPL rules and regulations.


“To this effect, the NPL Secretariat has decided to apply Article 4.3 of the NPL Rules and Regulations which states: ‘The Secretariat is empowered to sanction immediately and appropriately, pending the decision of the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.


“We at the NPL will not fold our hands and wait until our league venues are littered with dead bodies of our valued players, coaches, match officials, fans and other stakeholders before we act.”


The Afonja Warriors, as Kwara United are popularly called, were further punished as they were banished from their home ground to Abuja with immediate effect.


Sunshine Stars were also slammed with a fine of N2 million for their Team Manager’s encroachment on the field during the tensed match.


What happened in Ilorin was one of the many fans-related violence that is rubbing mud on the face of the local league.


P.M.Sports can report that another serious violence nearly rocked a league match involving Sunshine Stars and former CAF Champions League champions, Enyimba International of Aba at the Ijebu-Ode Stadium, Ogun State two weeks ago.


Fans of the home team, Sunshine, almost caused havoc after the match, as they found their ways into the playing turf to protest their team’s barren draw against Enyimba. It took the timely intervention of security personnel on duty at the Dipo Dina Stadium and some sports journalists covering the match to contain the situation.


There is no doubt that the recurrent of fans-related violence in local league matches will do more harm to the already tarnished image of the domestic league.


Football pundits, who have continued to show displeasure over the low quality of players that dominate the domestic clubs and the low standard of matches in the NPL for years, would be discouraged to go to the stadia to watch matches for fear of insecurity. If an urgent step is not taken by the NFF and the NPL on the issues relating to soccer violence, the menace may further scare away potential sponsors from showing interest in the league.


Already, the ongoing season is without a sponsor after former sponsor, Globacom, refused to renew its sponsorship contract with the NFF. Obviously, the telecommunication company did not get much value for their investment in the league. Fans’ trouble in the league will further affect NPL’s bid to attract a new corporate body to fund the cash-strapped Nigerian Premier League.


Football lovers also witnessed another violence in Kano on Wednesday, when the fans of Kano Pillars attacked the referees and visiting Heartland FC of Owerri players. It is an indication that hooliganism in the local league is fast spreading across the country once again. The ugly act may force many home teams to play their matches behind closed doors. When this happens, the clubs will be deprived of getting revenues through gate takings.


Also, the spate of encroachment of fans and officials on the field of play during or immediately after matches would put the match officials under an undue pressure to perform well.


Ultimately, persistent fans-related violence would disrupt the schedule of league games. Definitely, some matches that are not played by teams would have to be rescheduled to later dates. This will prevent the league body, NPL, to achieve its target of winding up the season as scheduled. And it will further defeat NFF’s objective to syncronise the NPL in line with its European counterparts.


Importantly, referees and their assistants would not perform at their best when they have a feeling that irate mobs may attack them during or after matches at the venues. Under such a tensed situation, referees would be forced to make questionable decisions in favour of the home team in an apparent move to save their lives.


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In a bid to forestall a repeat of the incidence that happened in Ilorin and Kano, the league board, through its acting Executive Secretary, Tunji Babalola, has read a riot act and vowed to punish the clubs and their fans for misconduct.


Babalola expressed disappointment over the attitude of clubs’ supporters, particularly those in Ilorin, stressing; “I’m totally displeased with the recent attitude of club supporters who are becoming club destroyers at league venues.


“We are not going to tolerate cases of violence and intimidation by supporters’ clubs anymore. If there is any similar incident from any other league venue, it will attract banishment of the erring club, as fans are now on our watch list.”


Speaking on the spate of crowd disturbances that have taken place in league venues this season, Warri Wolves’ Coach, Maurice Cooreman, said poor officiating is the major cause of the problem.


The Belgian coach urged both the NFF and NPL to urgently tackle the issue for the growth of the local league in the country.


He said: “The problem in the league is caused by referees. When we don’t have good referees officiating matches, then the fans would want to show their anger through protests at match venues.”


A security consultant, Damian Ajah, on his part, urged football authorities in the country to ensure adequate security at all venues to prevent further crowd problems.


Ajah said that efforts should be made to avert soccer violence, as Nigeria is currently experiencing internal security challenges.


He called for an increase in the number of security personnel at match venues, especially in identified flash points to check incidents of crowd troubles.


Football authorities should not leave security issues at match venues to the home teams alone, but must ensure that resources are committed to make security personnel dedicated to their duties.


“Crowd unrests at match venues now will be disastrous due to the high level of passion attached to the game and which could lead to a large casualty figures like what happened in Egypt recently,” he said.


He also advocated for a mechanism where clubs would be mandated to enlighten their supporters on the need to maintain law and order at stadiums.


“Fans should be educated on ways of channeling their grievances through appropriate quarters and not taking the law into their hands.


“Spectators found to constitute security threats at match venues should be identified and banned from stadiums to serve a deterrent to others,” he told Tide online Newspaper.


Ajah equally called on Nigerian referees to be fair while discharging their duties and avoid making biased decisions that would incur the wrath of fans.


According to him, 90 per cent of crowd troubles at stadiums are caused by poor officiating.


—Bamidele Olowosagba

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