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‘Adopted pitches’ suffer as IMC rejects 5 stadia for failing Club Licensing

Prior to the kick-off of the 2022/2023 abridged Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season, the Interim Management Company (IMC), led by Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, announced…

Prior to the kick-off of the 2022/2023 abridged Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season, the Interim Management Company (IMC), led by Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, announced that five clubs had failed to meet the infrastructure requirements of Club Licensing regulations and will be playing their home matches at other approved venues.

The affected clubs that failed to provide up-to-standard stadium facilities to host matches based on requirements of Club Licensing are Enugu Rangers, Kwara United, Niger Tornadoes, Lobi Stars and Nasarawa United.

It will be recalled that pursuant to FIFA and CAF directives and in particular CAF circular dated November 26, 2013, on Clubs’ Licensing System, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) adopted the NFF Clubs Licensing Regulations which is the basic document for Club Licensing System in Nigeria, through which different members of the football family aim to promote common principles in the world of football such as sporting value, transparency in their finances, ownership and control of clubs, players and coaches welfare, and the credibility and integrity of club competitions.

Davidson Owumi, the Head of Operations of the IMC, therefore said that in strict adherence to the provisions of the NPFL Club Licensing Regulation, clubs that fail requirements will be held accountable.

“We want to get it right from the start and this can only be achieved when the rules are followed”, he said then.

His stand was re-echoed by the IMC chairman, Hon. Elegbeleye who said that the committee is adopting a holistic approach to develop a framework to reposition the league in line with the mandate given it by the NFF and the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports.

Elegbeleye noted that the committee is committed to ensuring that the NPFL is henceforth organised in line with global best practices.

Consequently, Aper Aku stadium Makurdi, Bako Kotangora stadium Minna, Lafia Township stadium in Lafia, Kwara Township stadium in Ilorin and Nnamdi Azikiwe International stadium Enugu were axed by the IMC for lacking standard playing pitches and other critical facilities like dressing rooms, floodlight and electronic scoreboard.

Therefore, alternative venues were approved for adaptation by the clubs whose traditional home grounds have been rejected. So, while Nasarawa United are playing ‘host’ to opponents at the New Jos Township Stadium, which is little over 200 kilometers from their usual Lafia home, Enugu Rangers are welcoming visitors at Awka City Stadium in neighboring Anambra State.

Kwara United are covering 180 kilometers to reach Ibadan to play their ‘home’ games at the Lekan Salami Stadium. Niger Tornadoes are doing slightly more than 200 kilometers from their base in Minna to Kaduna to use the Ahmadu Bello Stadium just as Lobi Stars have also adopted the New Jos Township Stadium, which is nearly 300 kilometers from Makurdi.

The New Jos Township Stadium in Jos will be the most used stadium as it is ‘home’ to three different clubs who will use it for their home matches till May when the league is expected to end. Pantami stadium Gombe, Lekan Salami Ibadan and Godswill Akpabio Uyo are hosting two teams each.

However, there is growing apprehension that if nothing is done by the respective state governments for their clubs to return to their traditional home grounds, the few existing stadia approved by the IMC will become even worse off.

The proprietor of Youth Arise Football Academy (YAFA), Olagbemiro Olayinka, said a situation where by almost every stadium is hosting more than one club side is dangerous.

“I can say without any fear of contradiction that if the five clubs that are now ‘homeless’ continue to use these adopted home grounds, very soon we may not boast of any good playing surface again.

“The few available ones are being exposed to too many matches and considering our poor maintenance culture, what will become of the pitches is better imagined.

“The only way out is for the state governments that own these rejected stadia to show more commitment to upgrading them to ease the pressure on other facilities,” said the former junior international.

However, the Media officer of Enugu Rangers, Norbert Okolie, said playing their home games away from home is not a serious challenge.

“Playing in Awka stadium is not a big challenge to us except that we are not playing in front of our fans,” he said.

He noted further that the ‘Cathedral,’ as the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium is known is undergoing renovation but the contractor has not given any possible date when it will be completed.  

So, as the season progresses, everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what will become of stadia like Godswill Akpabio stadium in Uyo, Pantami stadium Gombe, New Jos stadium and Lekan Salami stadium Ibadan at the end of the season.

A look at match venues approved for clubs by the IMC shows that only Akwa City stadium, Ahmadu Bello stadium Kaduna, Remo Stars stadium Ikenne, Samson Siasia stadium Yenagoa, Samuel Ogbemudia stadium Benin City, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stadium Bauchi, Adokiye Amaesimaka stadium Port-Harcourt, El-Kanemi stadium Maiduguri, Umuahia stadium Umuahia, Akure Township stadium and Enyimba stadium in Aba are not ‘invaded’ and so, saved from further deterioration.  

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