by Yomi Kazeem
When Decree 101 was enacted 21 years ago, very few would have had the foresight to predict its impact on Nigerian football – its growth and evolution.
The Decree, in general, allows for government interference in football without prohibition. As such, football associations, clubs and entities are at the behest of various tiers of government in lieu of the fact that the government is the primary source – most times, the only source – of their funding.
Pragmatically, it can be argued that the government’s move could have been thought of as a stimulant of growth – to provide initial funding, establish a structure and then allow for such structure to evolve on its own. If that was the primary intention then it can be lauded although one suspects that the then military government did not have such interests in mind.
Two decades later, what persists is a system where an overwhelming percentage of the Nigerian football structure is over-dependent on the government for funds. And that is not the only problem…
The ceaseless interference of government in football has threatened to land Nigerian football in trouble with FIFA and several times over the last decade, FIFA has huffed and puffed about the need to put an end to the trend. Of the clubs in the Nigerian Premier League, less than 10% are privately owned and run. The others wait on state government allocations and payments which always arrive late and distort preparations and schedules. Ocean Boys of Bayelsa, last season, could not meet up with match commitments on no less than three occasions due to a lack of funds while player protests about unpaid salaries are about as regular as Lionel Messi’s goals.
At national team level, the case is the same. The funding is largely sourced from government via the Ministry of Sports just as there have been unpleasant high profile cases of presidential express orders in the affairs of the team such as the withdrawal of the Super Eagles from the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and the 2010 ‘ban’ of the national team from participating in tournaments for a period of two years ( the ban was rescinded following threats by FIFA).
The dependence on government goes beyond allowing continued and excessive interference in the game, it also effectively stunts the growth of private sector participation or investment. With a market of over 50 million football fans who are disinterested in the local league that is haphazard at best, leading brands are forced to align with foreign football clubs and competitions in order to tap into the potent market available whereas local club football lies in tatters.
The leadership of football governing bodies must also be highlighted as another pitfall of government interference as such positions are regarded as rewards for political goodwill and support rather than based on merit and a working knowledge of the game. Essentially, square pegs are put in round holes.
Growing the football sector can be aided by policy. The government must collectively and definitively reduce its influence and funding in the game at all levels.
At the same time, sports entrepreneurship and private sector participation should be encouraged and also protected by policy.
Football bodies should be run by people with relevant educational or career experience. Sports Management is an educational degree, how about we let someone put it to work rather than randomly nominate an Abuja stalwart whose experience in football come from flipping through football channels on his flat screen television?
Club football should also be looked into. Government owned clubs can sell their stakes in such clubs and allow for private ownership and a level playing ground. As a country, we have one of the vital ingredients in monetizing football- a football mad citizenry. Twenty years ago, the English Premier League was about to be disbanded by Margaret Thatcher, today it is worth billions of pounds and one of the key reasons asides dedicated work was the football crazy culture similar to ours. A lot can be done in a relatively short while when the market is available as it is here, all we need is the product. A vibrant and competitive football league run by persons with competent expertise.
Nigeria just got crowned as champions of Africa for the first time in 19 years, our football is the toast of the town, if ever there was a time for government take a step back and allow for growth in the sector, it is now.