With the return of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) after a seven-month hiatus, attacks of the match day referees have a sore point in the year. Wale Ayeni writes.
Despite the heavy fines that were slammed on erring teams whose fans attacked match officials the fans continue to take their laws into the hands by giving a fair share of their emotion to match officials in the first match of the season.
Referees maltreatment is not new to the Nigeria top flight league and other leagues in the country, most recently the centre referee who was given the responsibility to officiate the game between Plateau United and Ifeanyi Ubah received the highest beating of his life in a horrible manner.
Fans of Plateau United allegedly beat up the centre referee Sam Agba after their goalless stalemate at home to Ifeanyi Ubah on Sunday, January 13 at the new Jos stadium leaving the center referee to seek for intensive medical care.
Reports with pictures and video clips claim that the home crowd descended on the officials after he (centre referee) sounded the final whistle.
Another league opener involving FC Ifeanyi Ubah ended in a sad tale for the centre referee two years ago. Purists pointed at the January 14, 2017 leagues opener between Kano Pillars and the Anambra based side which ended in chaos after the match arbiter disallowed a free-kick goal on the ground that the first 45 minutes had ended with the bigwigs of the league management board present at the stadium.
However, the media officer of the Plateau United, Albert Dakup in a statement denied the reports of the attack which is not only baseless according to him but a calculated attempt aimed at not only tarnishing the image of the club and General Manager, Pius Henwan and the Club but a calculated attempt by mischief makers to portray the club before the general public.
Dakup explained that immediately after the match when angry fans attempted to invade the pitch in an attempt to gain access to the match officials, security agents including the Special Task Force in the state code-named “Operation Safe Haven” were at hand to restore normalcy and even escorted the centre referee and other match officials to the dressing room.
A retired referee and NPFL referee assessor, Promise Uwaeme revealed that club administrators poisoned the mind of fans against referees thus making it difficult for referees to avoid being beaten at match day venue.
“Truth is, it will be difficult for the Referees themselves to be able to do anything to prevent it, no matter whatever the Referee does, and the home team administrators have already poisoned the mind of the fans against the Referees”
Uwaeme who is also CAF IT, Video Technician, and VAR Operator said “what we have to do is to start using technology to train and assess referees. This is a practice that has been in existence for the past 10years in Europe. We need to start from using IT/Video Technology to train and assess our referees.”
Meanwhile, the LMC has slammed Plateau United as they failed to provide adequate security for match officials leading to some of its supporters and unidentified persons assaulting the referees after the match and will play its next 3 home matches at the Ilorin Township Stadium.
Plateau United also shall forfeit 3 points from their accrued points should they breach similar league rules in the course of this season and also required within 7 days to identify and ensure the apprehension and prosecution by relevant security agencies of one Attahiru Babayo named by the match officials for leading the assault.
The way forward
The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final. The decisions of the referee and all other match officials must always be respected by the team involved in the game so also the fans.
The League Managing Company (LMC) should ensure that the match day officials are being placed under well tight and protected security men at match day venues to avoid any further attack on referees.
Also, the welfare of the referees should be taken seriously; they should be paid their match allowance as at when due to close the gap of match-fixing.
There is a need to bring up media awareness to sensitize the general public most especially football loving fans across Nigeria on how to conduct themselves before, during and after matches played around their environment, by letting them know that the round leather game is not a do or die affair.
The league management should further place heavy sanctions on club and fans that are found wanting in committing such crime, if possible, banished the offending clubs for the whole season, persons responsible for maltreating any match officials at match day venue should be arrested and face the riot of the law or charge to court this will send a message to other to be of good conduct.
They should be heavy security present at the entrance of all match venue to carry out an intensive search on fans to counter any harmful instruments bring to the stadium.
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