Saturday, August 14, 2010

FEATURE: Gladiators' welfare tops NPL agenda for new season

With the 20 clubs in the top-flight division gearing up for the 2010/2011 season, the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) has made it clear that it will give priority to the welfare of the gladiators in the game – players, coaches and referees. A number of critics have termed the resolve of the Premier League under Davidson Owumi as one that will pay lip-service to the plight of these gladiators. 
But the NPL has started on sound footing by clamping down on hooliganism at the Super Four by meting out punishments to Kano Pillars’ goalkeeper and official, Sani Haliru and Ali Adamu respectively, for misconduct after the game against Enyimba last Sunday at the Gateway International Stadium, Ijebu-Ode.
One of the referees at the post-season tournament in Ijebu-Ode spoke to our correspondent on the condition of leaving his name out, believes that the immediate response of the Premier League in sanctioning the Kano Pillars’ duo signals the intent of the new administration of the NPL to stamp out any form of hooliganism in the league whether mild or rash. Haliru got six months suspension for verbal assault while Adamu got three years for attempted assault on assistant referee, Peter Edibe from Cross River State.
“I was shocked by the way the players and officials of Kano Pillars conducted themselves after that game (against Enyimba),” began one of the match officials at the recently-concluded Super Four. “They should have known that they had nothing at stake though they will say that they are playing for pride. But it was not enough to start fighting or attempt to attack a match official. Teams should learn to accept defeat just as they celebrate wins.”
But Owumi’s administration is looking at a bigger picture on how to curb violence at league centres to its minimum in the coming season. Media committee chairman on the Super Four, Akin Akinbobola, threw more emphasis on the plans to punish erring clubs in this aspect of the game.
“We will not compromise standards for anyone in the coming season,” said the NPL board member. “We will not condone hooliganism and clubs that engage in this vice will be fined and banished till the end of the league. Any club that beats our referees will not finish the league.”
Though some people fear that this could turn out to be a slap of the wrist, as it has been in the previous seasons, sources close to the Premier League secretariat in Abuja say that the NPL could adopt stiffer sanctions on erring clubs since Owumi is known for his no-nonsense stance.
However, the players could be the biggest beneficiaries from the new NPL team. This is because it has vowed to make sure that no player in the league is exploited by his employer. First, the Premier League has demanded that on no grounds will a club complete its registration for the coming season without including the contract details of each playing and coaching staff in its registration. It added that any club that fails to attach such documents (for players’ contract) will not be registered for the new season.
“From now, teams are expected to submit every player's contract papers and commitment letter to the NPL to serve as evidence whenever issues occur on this. Any team that fails to do this will not be registered in the new season because we want things to be done rightly and we will ensure that the standards are not compromised.” said Akinbobola.
Apart from the issue of contract, Akinbobola also took time to explain the plans of the NPL to ensure that there will be no fixture jam this season, which was responsible for the campaign ending in July. The NPL says it will meet with the new apex football body, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), to fashion out a solution to the logjam that often characterises the annual calendar of the league.
With the kick off date for the new season – September 25 – ratified by the NPL congress last week, the Premier League board under Owumi has promised to commercialise starting with a new contract for the title sponsorship to be unveiled before the start of the 2010/2011 season.

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