In the last few weeks, football lovers have been regaled with scandalous reports of corruption from the inner chambers of FIFA. This followed the arrest of top executives of FIFA in Switzerland by the Swiss authorities at the behest of the American Justice Department; who accused the executives of corruption involving bids for hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 world cup in Russia and Qatar respectively. While many in Nigeria have debated the strength of corruption allegations and the reach of the American justice system, some discerning analysts believe it is time to beam the search light on the domestic football league. They are concerned over the threat posed by the rapidly growing sports bet business on the domestic football league.
Sports bet business has witnessed resurgence in the past few years. Several sports bet companies and outlets dot the landscape. Nigerians are easily attracted to this new ‘hobby’ lured by the promise of easy money. Brightly coloured banners displaying the names and services rendered adorn outlets across the land even as many fear the impact of such activities on the youths. Some believe it breeds laziness in the youths; many of whom are lured by tales from lucky friends and with the promise of big wins from sports bet companies. However, some analysts have begun to frown at sports bet. They believe the Nigerian domestic league which has found it difficult to attract the needed investment and spectatorship will crumble if some of the money from sports bet begin to find their way into the game. It is well established that there is correlation between rise in gambling and match-fixing. Analysts say it is no coincident that match fixing are highest in Asia in places like Singapore which is close to gambling haven such as Macau.
Although Nigeria is believed to have a fairly decent league, ethics wise, however analysts believe gambling money would, in no time, find a way to seep into the game. They say poorly paid referees are tempted to take bribe to look the other way. Some fans that go to watch live matches in stadiums speak of poor refereeing. “Some referees’ decisions are baffling. You don’t know if it smacks of incompetence or corruption,” says Mr. Adekunle Sowore, a soccer enthusiast.
Indeed, the Nigerian domestic league has been largely shunned by fans that prefer to stay glued to their television sets watching top-flight matches in European football leagues than Nigerian league let alone going to the stadium. Players are not left out. Some football clubs owe their players upwards of six months salaries and such players, when approached by those who want to fix matches would easily oblige. In 2013, Nigeria joined the inglorious hall of fame, when four clubs in a race for promotion to top-flight league produced 146 goals in two matches. The result generated uproar and the NFF moved swiftly to sanction the erring clubs. “Our league will develop when only the skills of the players determine results,” says Pius Ayinor, a sports analyst.
Some pundits are equally miffed that Nigerian referees hardly make Grade A continental matches, let alone being invited to umpire matches at prestigious tournaments such as the World Cup. Although, analysts differ on the reasons for this, the general consensus is that most Nigerian umpires are perceived to be either incompetent, corrupt or both. This does not augur well for the growth of the league. This impacts negatively on the revenue the league could yield; such as from spectatorship, viewership and transmission rights.
Talented players also tend to stay away from such leagues or try to move to more respectable leagues in Europe or North Africa. If the Nigerian domestic league is to make its way to the top of Africa prestigious leagues, according to Jude Bassey, a sports marketing executive, the NFF should “banish the image of corruption from the league.” It is no coincidence that auctioning of sponsorship/branding rights for the league attracts few corporate entities which short-change the revenue that could accrue to the coffers of the football administrators.
The ability of sports bet to influence outcomes of football matches in our league remains to be seen. However, worried stakeholders prefer the NFF not wait to begin remedial or safeguard measures to forestall such an occurrence.
By Osaze Omoragbon