Those 19 Stadiums

Will it work? Are you sure the LMC will not change its mind? These are questions that followed the decision of the League Management Company (LMC) approving ONLY 13 venues for the 2020/ 2021 Nigeria Professional Football League.

 Questions because before now the LMC had barked about the need to play the league on credible television friendly surfaces, but had always reneged at the last minute, succumbing to politically induced "home advantage pressure. Continental competitions refer, where CAF will ban a stadium, declare it "not fit for competitions, yet the LMC will approve same for the domestic league. 

This year, a "new normal is on the cards with the honourable minister of youth and sports development leading the charge. Before the Covid-19 pandemic that shortcircuited football all over the world, the LMC was in the market, shopping for credible sponsors for the Nigeria professional league. 

First on the agenda was NEXT TV, who predictably came out with the resolution that certain stadiums could NOT host live broadcasts of matches. Even after the collapse of the NEXT Contract, the new bride Redstrike also insisted on "...stadiums that will not only give credit to the league, but will help in advertising the Nigeria brand. 

Given past experiences, followers of the round leather game in this part of the world have kept their fingers crossed, while the teams waited for the academic "stadium inspection that has often come to nought. Suddenly out of the blues, a bombshell "In line with CAF circular of 26th July 2020 which was forwarded to you and the need to meet up with the requirements of high quality Television production by our new partners, the LMC has reviewed various reports submitted on the state of our stadia across the country. 

The stadia have been broadly grouped into two: A - approved for 2020/2021 NPFL season and B - requiring upgrade before approval. 

For those in category B, we have made notes on the areas/repairs needed to be done before recertification. Please find attached tables for your guidance and further necessary action. Yes, the LMC did not have to do "another inspection, the LMC knows as the back of its hand, those venues that it has been "condoning, venues without floodlights (Not only for night matches, but for declining visibility) dressing rooms, running water, sanitary facilities, signages, designated entry and exit points, numbered seats, flawless playing turf (grass or artificial) sick bay, substitute benches, media facilities... the list is endless. When the "blacklisted list was perused, the Nnamdi Azikiwe stadium Enugu was a surprise inclusion. Two seasons ago, Lobi Stars of Makurdi were banned to Enugu by CAF, where it played its CAF Champions league matches. Enugu stadium also got the nod of CAF as host of the CAF Confederation Cup matches involving Enugu Rangers.

 This time around, change of fortunes. The Aper Aku Stadium Makurdi has gotten the nod of the LMC, while the Enugu State government has been told to. 

The LMC release said the category B venues have a chance of been considered within the season IF they can work on anomalies so highlighted. How do you within one season, two seasons, remodel a whole stadium? Umuahia, home of Abia Warriors and the Ifeanyi Ubah Stadium refer. I am more than convinced that this time around, there is no going back. 

The sports minister as earlier highlighted had found it proper to send a letter to all the state governors. Entitled Re enforcement of Licensing/Financial Regulations and Funding for State-owned Football Club in it, the minister urged governors to help in making the league more competitive, lucrative and align with top leagues around the world.

He urged them to help in guaranteeing a flawless Club Licensing regime and requested for an audience through the chairman of the Governors Forum, His Excellency Kayode Fayemi, to address them on "the way forward for a better Professional football league. 

"We are totally committed to turn the fortunes of our league into a worthy business enterprise, the minister said. It should be noted, however, that of the approved stadiums, five are not home grounds of the 20 league teams. It stands to reason, therefore that Teslim Balogun Stadium (MFM?) Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium Benin, Stephen Keshi Stadium Asaba (Warri Wolves?) Gombe Township Stadium Patani and Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna will be available to receive and host those teams that are now homeless. 

Bye bye home advantage? Till next week, by His grace

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