Saturday, July 18, 2009

Unending Battle Over League Players’ Welfare

During the week, Delta State took an extreme decision by disbanding Delta Force Football Club, a Nigeria National League (NNL) side, after its players decided to take their fight in their own hands to demand for the payment of the arrears of salaries reportedly believed to be 11 months. Players of the other club in the state, Warri Wolves, which is a Premier League outfit, took a cue from the treatment and have decided to remain quiet in spite of being owed 50 per cent of their signing-on fees. The two aforementioned clubs are not the only ones in this trend of holding up the pay of players. Across the country, clubs such as Nasarawa United, Wikki Tourists, Heartland Football Club, Enugu Rangers, Akwa United, Lobi Stars, Sharks Football Club and even Premier League champion, Bayelsa United among others.
Over the years, this has become the trend in the system of the Nigerian league. There have been situations whereby the players and coaches are subjected to horrendous experience as they are made to travel by road to match venues while the club managers conveniently travel by air. In spite of the N700 million injected into the sponsorship of the Premier League by Globacom Nigeria Limited, the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) is reportedly engulfed in financial crisis, as most media houses have reported that the Premier League board is broke. This has become a contested issue after the office of the NPL was sealed on Monday by court bailiffs and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) for its refusal to offset a debt of about N200 million. The situation is even worse after it had been earlier reported that the NPL owes its staff salaries of about two to three months. Though the league board has denied all allegations against it.
In the NNL also known as the National Division I League, the story is not different since it has been unable to attract a title sponsor. With the arbiters of the Premier League and the National Division I League struggling financial, one wonders how they can tackle the issue of fighting the so-called professional clubs to make players’ welfare. A number of players, who spoke to this writer on conditions of anonymity, claimed that they have reported their employers to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) with the hope of getting justice. Unfortunately nothing seemed to have happened at the end of the whole exercise, which has led to some of these players opting to travel out of the country for trials in African countries such as Ghana, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Morocco among others.
When the report alleging that the NPL owes its staff about two or three months’ salaries broke, one of the players, who featured in the squad of relegated Nasarawa United last season, immediately lost hope in his bid to get the Premier League board to force the management of the club to pay him and his team-mates. That is the picture of the Nigerian league, at the moment. Though the NPL in its little way has since the title sponsorship of Globacom began been able to give the 20 participating clubs N10 million grant each, the managers of the sides on their own now need to source for funds outside the meagre grant it gets every season. Last season, only one Premier League club, Warri Wolves, had an advert placed on its shirt from Oceanwave Marine Oil and Gas Company though details of the deal is unknown. Enyimba is the other club that has a deal with Spanish sportswear manufacturing firm, Joma. The problem with clubs in Nigeria is its refusal in most instances to reveal the contractual and financial terms of their businesses with any corporate outfit, which would be hoping to get mileage from such deals. It is not surprising since the clubs are still tied to the aprons of the state governments and at the end, the players are the real casualties of such shrouded deals. Until salient issues as these are visited and resolved, the players would continue to suffer neglect while some would fancy the option of moving in droves to nations where their leagues are rated below Nigeria’s for the sake of a few dimes.

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