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Monday, 18 March 2013

Nigerian Football Referees to Hire Private Bodyguards

Problems of poor officiating have continued to mar the beauty of the game of football in Nigeria's domestic football league.

Football clubs here have always found a way of coercing match referees to officiate in their favour when playing at home, and if they end up not getting the result they need, the referees become punching bags by supporters of these clubs who see home victory as a right.

In this report, Collin Udoh of Kickoff.com says Nigerian referees have come up with an innovation to ensure their safety during league matches.

Nigerian League venues have long been considered unsafe, especially when results do not favour the home teams, with referees usually targeted particular, violent attention.

While the first week of competition passed without incident, officials remain wary of the threat of potential violence, as evidenced by the vicious, karate-style variety unleashed on Gabriel Adigwe in Enugu and captured on live television, by people suspected to be fans of Heartland FC.

"We have our BlackBerry Messenger group where some of us discuss issues and one of the things we have talked about is getting private security to protect us," one prominent referee, who did not wish to be named, told KickOffNigeria.com.

"Referees are always getting beaten up at matches, and most times, the clubs know the people responsible and even allow them on the pitch or in the referees' dressing room.

"It is difficult to do a good job as a referee when you are not sure of your safety.

"So don't be surprised if at some point this season, you see some referees travel with well-equipped bodyguards from these private security companies to match venues.

"We will pay them out of our pockets, even if it means using the match indemnities to do so."

And in a frank admission of the state of the game, a second referee admitted that clubs offer bribes to match officials.

"Many referees take the money because they have to 'settle' people.

"That is why you see some referees get more games than others who are more competent and unbiased.

"In fact, clubs reject certain referees for their home games because they feel that they will get no advantage, but they celebrate when they see these unbiased referees at their away games."

The referee added that match officials are sometimes put on the spot by club officials, "These officials usually collect money from their bosses, and tell them that the referee has been 'settled'.

"When things don't go their way, their fans take it out on the referee believing he cheated them, or took more money from the opposing team.

"It is a no win situation.

"But corruption in football is just a reflection of the wider problems in the Nigerian society, so it would be unfair to blame just the referees," he said

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