The Nigeria Referees Association (NRA), has condemned the attack on one of its members, Bethel Nwanesi, during the Match Day 3 of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) between Remo Stars and Bendel Insurance.
The NRA National Publicity Secretary, Kelechi Mejuobi, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that such occurrences were anathema to the development of football league in Nigeria.
NAN reports that violence ensued after the blast of the final whistle by the referee when some fans took to the field to protest the alleged poor officiating of the match.
The attendant circumstances led to the referee being physically assaulted with a cut on his head allegedly inflicted on him by an irate fan.
The NRA said that though the body refrained from issuing a statement over such incidences, the latest development which had happened in two successions could not be overlooked.
“Ordinarily, it has not been in our fashion to issue statements whenever incidents involving referees at the Nigeria leagues occur.
“The weekly reports of attacks on referees at the match venues whenever home teams fail to win on their grounds since the 2018/2019 league commenced may have caused a change in the association’s approach.
“Recall that the sore point witnessed so far in the top Nigeria league that is in Week Three is the `One Week, One Attack on Referee’ incidents.
“In the Week One match in Jos, Plateau, Plateau United vs Ifeanyi Uba FC, the referees were beaten blue and back by supporters of home side because they drew at home,” the NRA said.
It added: “Before the dust raised by the incident could rest following sanctions placed on the Jos Stadium amid heavy fines Plateau Utd was charged to pay.
“Gateway Stadium in Sagamu, Ogun, turned another slaughter ground where referees suffered serious assault resulting to a bloodbath in the score draw match; Remo Stars vs Bendel Insurance.
“While the NRA awaits the decision of the league organisers, the LMC, it has become imperative for the leadership of the referees body to once again condemn the barbaric act.
“We also urge football authorities in the country to wade into the matter because the association is on the verge of asking its members to keep away from the league to avoid being killed by rampaging supporters.
“A General Assembly of the association shall meet to take a decision on this matter even as the sanctions placed on Plateau Utd,” the NRA said in the statement.
“Based on its earlier resolution, NRA members won’t honour matches on grounds where referees are beaten remains sacrosanct.
“It is obvious that the incidents in Jos and Sagamu, coming early in the Abridged League are ominous signs of bad days ahead for the domestic league.
“Particularly, Nigerian referees taking part in the NPFL, who are at the verge of losing their lives at match venues if scenes witnessed so far from the violent venues are considered.
“It is on this note that the NRA which strongly cares for the welfare of its members, believes that no life of a referee is worth any league match in the country.
“We are thereby considering keeping away from the NPFL matches to avoid a referee being beaten to death,” it said.
The referee body said that the desire to save the lives of referees would force the NRA to beckon on the stakeholders to come to its aid.
“We appeal to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), LMC and so called NPFL Club Owners, to as a matter of urgent concern intervene immediately to save the situation.
“It is worthy to note that the NRA working in partnership with the NFF Referees Committee had engaged in capacity training of the referees for the new season.
“We also consider all listed and appointed referees fit for the 2018/2019 football league.
“And if by any omission or commission, a referee conducts himself or herself in a manner likely to bring the game to disrepute by misconduct that affects the outcome of the game.
“The NFF Referees Committee adjudicates the matter to ascertain proper sanctions to the defaulting referee(s) while the NRA has an Ethics/Disciplinary Committee that recommends further punishment based on the degree of offence.
“Therefore, it is an anathema in the football system for club owners and supporters exploit that to assault the referee?
“At this point, suffice it to note that the repeated dastardly acts are affecting the mental psyche of the referees at employing best practices in the course of discharging their duties at match venues for fear of being attacked, while their disposition to honour future NPFL matches has waned drastically.
“The association also frowns at the unsavoury attitude of some of the club officials who out of partisan proclivity and desire to have their clubs win through unorthodox means.
“This includes making scathing remarks about referees and officiating knowing well such reactions have capacities of igniting crowd attacks on the referees,” it said.
The NRA wishes to state that club officials could not be spectators and interested bidders in a match and at the same time interpret the laws of the game as unbiased umpires.
“All stakeholders are enjoined to preach and work against hooliganism on our league centres to enable the NPFL move forward.
“The NRA wishes to reconfirm our earlier resolve on `BEAT A REFEREE, KILL NIGERIA FOOTBALL,” it concluded.
By Olanrewaju Akojede