By Steve Alabi
Men of goodwill must rise up to fight the perennial scourge of violence in our stadia. In only five match days, the 2019 league has witnessed a number of violent incidents requiring stringent sanctions. The latest is the one that happened in the game between Remo Stars of Sagamu and the rejuvenated Bendel Insurance of Benin in Match Day Three when the referee was assaulted physically for reasons bordering on suspected biased officiating. Hell was let loose when the centre referee, Bethel Nwanesi, denied Remo Stars’ Ekene Awazie a goal in the 82nd minute. Must every suspicion of biased officiating attract violence? Must every refereeing mistake be visited with hooliganism?
Otherwise respected commentators have surprised us with unbelievable justification of what happened in Sagamu. In some few aspects of life, those who inhabit such realms may find justification for the use of violence as a countermeasure to certain actions but such is not acceptable in the sports arena. We must resist such justification in sports. We owe it a duty to our humanity to reject this twisting of sanity.
Sports occupy a special sphere in human relationships where sanity rules human passion. Violence is completely antithetical to the main aim of sports. The invention of sports by man is mainly to rein in the animalistic instincts of man and manifest them in acceptable mode. Man is infinitely competitive; where he finds no one to compete with, he is likely to compete with himself. It is this innate craving to dominate others that philosophers rationalized as the brutish nature of man. It is this dangerous instinct that modern man has transfigured into a competitive spirit that is at the heart of sports.
Sane people rally round their sporting standards with a clear knowledge that there are two sides to a coin: you either win or lose. Of course, there is a middle course, that of draws but the definitiveness of sports is either victory or loss. Those who win have the right to celebrate heartily but also have a responsibility to respect their opponents. Those who lose can lick their wounds but must not be devastated knowing very well that victory can be theirs tomorrow. No matter how dominant a team or athlete is, he cannot corner victory perpetually.
It is in the nature of victory that it can never be in the custody of one person for ever. This is the reason why there is always a tomorrow in any sports competition. The loser today can be the one with the most exhilarating triumph tomorrow, and the winner may be served with a gut wrenching defeat. Witness the Invincibles, the incredible Arsenal squad that went a whole season without a single defeat in the 2003/04 season. The following season, their strength could only get them the second position. In subsequent seasons, they were reduced to also-rans, managing to stay afloat atop the middle ranks. In fact, they have not won the league since then.
Even great individual superstars whose dominance is exceptional have had to be brought down to earth by one odd defeat or the other. The GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, Muhammed Ali, in several losses, infused defeat with dignity commonly reserved for great exploits. His conqueror in every loss knew he’d just survived a World War. Rocky Marciano and Floyd Mayweather Jr. are the two best known of the only fifteen in the whole of boxing history to enjoy the divine uniqueness of not tasting defeat but this distinction has not conferred on them the most prestigious title of the GOAT. It is Ali, with five defeats from 61 bouts, that the sporting world honours with this exceptional accolade. While Marciano may have escaped on account of death, Mayweather is still in the line of fire every time he ventures out of retirement.
No sanction is too harsh for purveyors and peddlers of violence in our league venues. Club managers owe a great responsibility to exterminate this cankerworm from their turf. They, more than any other authority involved with the league, have a duty to keep out hooliganism because they own the team, the fans and the stands. And they are the ones who suffer the consequences the most. They pay the extra cost that comes with sanctions and carry the stigma.
Football games can never be settled by fisticuffs but by goals. The best revenge for a cheat is to use his own underarm tactics to beat him. A winning goal scored against a cheat, even if dubiously obtained, is like a dagger thrust through the heart. This is a lesson that club managers must imbibe and instill in their fans. They must also bring their fans up to speed on the rules of the game. Some decisions that look like fraud to fans are sometimes perfectly licit. Correct knowledge of the rules of the game will help better understanding of refereeing decisions.
Beyond this, club managers also need to improve security measures they deploy at match venues. A sprinkling of policemen is no longer adequate to deter the unruly. Football is a game of high emotions and passion. It is unrealistic to expect that fan education will totally eliminate unruly behaviour. Preventive security measures always help to douse tensions.
We must pass a word of caution to referees who compromise their integrity. No lucre is worth the loss of one’s life, limbs and personal dignity. Let them approach their duty with clear conscience and impartiality. With this, they secure their integrity, life and limbs, and edify the game. May they have the courage to traverse this honourable route.
The League Management Committee needs to go beyond sanctions to arrest football violence. It needs to involve owner-governors, Commissioners of Police and heads of other security agencies as well as traditional rulers since a spark of violence in the stadium can set off a whole chain of actions in the community. It needs to engage the Nigeria Referees Association in a more proactive and decisive manner to improve competence and impartiality in officiating. It needs to develop and constantly update dossiers on flashpoints and suspicious characters. It needs to create a well coordinated campaign against violence, both in the media and on the streets. May the men in the LMC also have the courage to make all these happen.