BREAKING: AFCON Snub: Nigerian RefereesAnd Task Before NFF, NRA - 247Updates
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BREAKING: AFCON Snub: Nigerian RefereesAnd Task Before NFF, NRA

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In what is obviously a no con­fidence vote from the Confed­eration of African Football (CAF), no Nigerian referee, in almost a decade, has been listed to take charge of a match at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).…CONTINUE READING

The unfortunate development dates back to 2015 when only a Ni­gerian match Assistant Referee, Peter Edibi, was selected by CAF to referee at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations Cup (AFCON) hosted by Equatorial Guinea.

Despite that Samuel Pwadu­takam made it into the assistant officials’ listed for the 2021 AF­CON in Cameroon, it was still a far cry from the expectations of football stakeholders in Nigeria who have seen the continual snub as a reflection of realities in the administration of the game in the country.

In that 2021 AFCON, CAF list­ed 63 match officials, to include 24 referees, 31 assistant referees and eight video assistant referees from 36 countries.

Defending the list then, CAF Director of Refereeing, Eddy Maillet, said the selection was based on experiences, skills and current forms of the selected ones.

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“The match officials were selected based on their experi­ence, skills and current forms. In recent months, they have been subjected to several aptitude tests through preparation courses and real competitive matches.

“Only the best will referee at this extraordinary event. The roster includes two referees from the CONCACAF as part of our in­ter-confederation skills exchange programme,” Maillet said then.

In response to that snub ahead of the 2021 Cup of Nations, a state­ment from the Nigerian Referees Association (NRA) promised a holistic action to ensure that the negative trend was halted. The press statement as scooped by SUNDAY INDEPENDENT noted that the NRA and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) were working assiduously to improve the fortunes of the Nigerian ref­erees.

“We have never relented in en­suring the our referees are among the best in the continent.

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“And we know we have some of the best referees in Africa but that they are not selected doesn’t mean they are not good but the NFF and the NRA are working hard to ensure our referees will continue to be among the best in Africa,” the statement read.

However, like a condemned criminal being led to the guillo­tine, in October last year, CAF named 85 referees for a prepara­tory course ahead of the ongoing 2023 AFCON and the list again was prominent for absence of Nigerian officials.

The list was made up of 32 cen­tre referees, 33 assistant referees and four VAR officials, eight tech­nical and physical instructors among others and they were list­ed by CAF for the course ahead of the showpiece.

Just like what happened in 2021 when Nigerian referees were ignored, in the wake of the latest snub, NRA president, San­ni Zubair, said Nigerian referees would soon be considered for ma­jor competitions in Africa and the world.

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He regretted the snub and admitted that in terms of per­formance, the country has good referees that could compete.

“In terms of performance, Ni­gerian referees are equal to any referee in the world. We have been watching and projecting the younger referees, some of them are now badged as FIFA referees and we have been moving on with them.

“There is a sort of gap between the ones we had before and now, and that is what we are trying to fill up,” Zubairu said.

Meanwhile, commentators have faulted the position of the NRA boss in nurturing referees that would compete in future, say­ing with Nigeria’s evolvement in sports and given the huge popu­lation, it was high time the coun­try’s officials called the short, as was the case before.

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In the list of officials for the ongoing 2023 AFCON, supposed­ly smaller countries made huge impressions. For instance, in the list of referees, Gabon has two of­ficials and one in the assistant ref­erees’ list. Mauritania produced two main referees; Somalia and Sudan have one apiece; Kenya has one referee and two assistant ref­erees; Djibouti and São Tomé & Principe have one assistant each, among other smaller countries who made presence in the lists

For Nigeria, this is in sharp contrast with the realities in past when the country’s referees like Felix Okubule and Linus Mba, among others were regu­lar presence at the Africa Cup of Nations and other international engagements, displaying skill, composure, competence and com­mitment to fair and transparent officiating .

Addressing the media recent­ly on why some countries do not make it when referees for inter national events are selected, veteran whistle man and coordi­nator of the FIFA Referees Com­mittee, Pierluigi Collina, said: “As always, the criteria we have used is ‘quality first’ and the selected on-field match officials represent the highest level of refereeing worldwide.” Similarly, while speaking on why CAF once again shunned Nigeria referees at the ongoing AFCON, a top official of the Afri­can soccer governing body, Nou­mandiez Desire Doue, who is also CAF’s Head of Refereeing and Football Technology, admitted that Nigerian referees are good but that they needed to do more. ”You have good referees in Ni­geria and to come to AFCON you have to be the best. “Good referees are for the zones, you have to be the best to come to the CAF competitions.

“Nigeria referees are improv­ing but they need to do more to be among the best because the selection has started in the last one and a half years.

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“We are in the scouting process of evaluating and to the end of selection. “We have different stages, you start from young talent to elite B, elite A and professional, it’s among the elite B we picked for the AFCON”, he said. He disclosed this during in­teraction with journalists at the CAF AFCON Referees’ Open Day that took place at the ASEC Mi­mosa club’s training pitch at the ongoing AFCON. Meanwhile stakeholders have blamed corruption and under­hand practices among the Nige­rian whistle men as reasons for the continued snub.

Mouktar Mohammed, the FCT FA chairman, said that the body of referees in the country needs to ask themselves questions on why their members have contin­ued to suffer rejections and how they could become out of it. “The referee body has lead­ership and representation at all levels of football. “So, I think they should ask very strong questions as to why they are not among those chosen to referee such important assign­ments. “Clearly, there is concern among Nigerians and all football stakeholders.

We should see our referees participating and grow­ing in the game. “We are a football powerhouse and also the most populous in Af­rica,” he said. Gara Gombe, the former chair­man of Gombe State Football As­sociation, has blamed the whole issue on corruption and absence of transparency on the part of NFF and other relevant author­ities. While reacting to the latest snub, he acknowledged that the country boasts of good referees but noted that the system had tended to influence their actions.

Gombe, however, said that a lot needed to be done if football ad­ministrators in the country want to see positive results and recog­nition by both FIFA and CAF.

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“The stories coming out from our league year in year out with controversial decisions, cor­ruption allegations, inconsis­tent management of the league, match-fixing allegations, to men­tion a few, are doing more harm than good. “For instance, one Auwal Baba Jade made a revelation about match-fixing in the league and he is a member of the board manag­ing the league and no one cared to look into the issue.

“Imagine that someone known for fixing matches, instead of be­ing reprimanded, was rewarded with a board member position to manage the same league,” Gombe said. He noted that the issue of non-payment of referees’ allow­ances was also an issue, adding that referees were owed for two to three seasons, wondering how products from such a system could be respected.

“Match appointments are based on who you know. “Clubs choose their match offi­cials and if you don’t have money, you can’t win the league or even a match. “Clubs allegedly invest on ref­erees instead of good players,” he said. Harrison Jalla, chairman of Professional Footballers Asso­ciation of Nigeria (PFAN) Task Force, noted that the country’s league was marred by so much irregularity during the era of the previous NFF and league man­agement board.

“It is the consequences of cor­ruption and maladministration of the previous NFF and the League Management Committee (LMC) boards. “There were cases of allega­tion of connivance between top officials of the league and clubs to trade off the league titles even before the start of every league seasons in the past.

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“The referees are compro­mised under such circumstances. The referees themselves are not independent, so it makes them to always be at the whims and ca­prices of the NFF referees com­mittee,” he said. On the way forward, he chal­lenged the NFF to look at what others are doing well and inte­grate same, asking them to shun corrupt practices and ensure that they personally handle the issues of referees’ emoluments. Gara Gombe, while admit­ting that results from domestic leagues must reflect efficiency in refereeing, said that the authori­ties must understand that Nigeri­an referees are being monitored, charging the NFF to provide ver­itable ground for referees to stop being compromised.

“Results from our league are also being monitored because the performance of the referees are on the spotlight. “It is the duty of the NFF, as the overall head of football in the land, to do everything possible to make sure that referees are not compromised in their decisions,” he said. As a way of ensuring efficient refereeing, Ibrahim Gusau, the NFF president, has promised to introduce the Video Assistant Ref­eree (VAR) in the league but crit­ics have viewed the decision as putting the cart before the horse.

The critics said the NFF must first sort out fundamental issues of fair judgement and unneces­sary inducement to the officials before gong the way of technolo­gy, which decision a corrupt ref­eree can still overturn.

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