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Unveiling women football referees officiating in the NPFL

For now, only those who have been badged by FIFA, the highest decision making body in world football are sanctioned by the Nigeria Football Federation,…

It is now an open secret that in the Nigeria Professional Football League, women referees are given the opportunity to officiate even some of the toughest matches.

For now, only those who have been badged by FIFA, the highest decision making body in world football are sanctioned by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF and the League Management Company, LMC to officiate in the NPFL.

While some of them serve as centre referees, others are assigned the responsibility of assisting the referees at the centre. Thus, they are referred to as assistant referees. Moreover, there are no more linesmen or women in football refereeing. They are called assistant referees.

At the moment, a total of eight Nigerian women FIFA badged referees are arbitrating in the NPFL using their whistles and flags. Out of the eight, five are assistant referees.

Vastly experienced Patience Ndidi Madu leads the team of three women referees in the NPFL. A PHD student, the member of Enugu State Referees Council was badged in 2017.

Ndidi who is formerly of the Nigeria Police sports team is one of the few African women referees slated for the 2023 Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

But for the COVID-19 pandemic which crippled all sectors of life including sports, Ndidi would have been in Doha Qatar alongside other selected FIFA referees from all the Confederations to partake in a world class seminar.

Based on her experience with the whistle, she has handled several top flight league matches and is hardly found wanting in the discharge of her duties as an arbiter of the male game.

FCT based Hannah Eliagwu is another female referee in the NPFL who has also lived up to expectations with her consistency in interpreting the laws of the game.

However, the Civil Defence officer is out of the current season due to ill-health. Trust Sports gathered from the Public Relations Officer of the NRA, Kelechi Mejuobi that she has been excused from officiating for now.

And then there is the new entrant, Yemisi Akintoye of the Lagos State Referees Council who has won laurels before she became FIFA graded arbiter this year. The latest FIFA women referee is a graduate of Physical and Health education.

The trio is supported by their colleagues who are FIFA badged assistant referees. Prominent and most experienced of the assistants is Mimisen Iyorhe of the Benue State Referees Council who is a first class woman referee with high level international recognition.

In fact, Iyorhe made history early this year when she became one of the first three African Women referees to officiate a match at a senior CAF male tournament.

Ethiopian referee Lidya Tafesse and her assistants, Malawian Bernadettar Kwimbira and Nigerian Mimisen Iyorhe took control of the quarter-final match between Guinea and Zambia at the 2021 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) in Cameroon.

She is also one of the assistant referees from Africa that FIFA has listed for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The other international women referees on the lines are Police Inspector Abibatu Yusuf based in Port-Harcourt. She was badged in 2018. There is also Mfom Akpan of Akwa Ibom Referees Council who was badged in 2020.

The graduate of University of Calabar is undergoing her postgraduate studies at the University of Uyo.

Beauty Queen and Kabenda Beauty Tera both of the Federal Capital Territory were recently badged but have had their own fair share of action in the NPFL.

Anytime women referees are listed to officiate the men’s football league, what usually come to mind are doubts over their ability to cope with the pace of the men.

It is argued that ability to interpret the laws correctly is one thing and being able to catch up with the fast pace of the male players is another.

Unlike female football, men’s game is played with such speed that sometimes it requires a lot of energy and mental strength for such high tempo matches to cope.

Those who feel strongly that women referees should be restricted to female football cite some cases of misinterpretations of the laws of the game by some of the ladies as reasons for their positions.

They are also quick to point at the disastrous action of Folusho Ajayi during the opening match of the 2017 NPFL season between Kano Pillars and visiting FC IfanyiUbah to buttress their argument.

She controversially blew her whistle for halftime when the ball was in motion towards the net of the home team Kano Pillars after a free-kick was taken. The game was abandoned by FC Ifeanyi Ubah at the Sani Abacha Stadium.

Although she was instantly suspended, Ajayi bounced back in week four of the same league season and officiated the match between Gombe United and Plateau United. It is on record that two of the matches she officiated were abandoned.

However, such incidences are rare occurrence with the present generation of women referees who have continued to leverage on improved security at match venues to arbitrate almost flawlessly in the NPFL.

The gentlemen and ladies of the whistle in the NPFL have received commendations from football stakeholders for providing a level playing field for clubs to play.

In the ongoing season, there have been over 10 away victories recorded by clubs. Kwara United and Enyimba have had a hat-trick of victories away from home.

Interestingly, the ladies of the whistle and flags led by Patience Ndidi and Mimisen Iyorhe have continued to feature prominently in the enchanting story of the modern day Nigerian football referees.

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