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India: example of where a private football league has worked

Plans by some privately owned football clubs in Nigeria to start their own league that is separate from and parallel to the current NPFL are said to be at an advance stage.

The organisers will formally make their announcement very soon.

However, some questions have been raised about how the league will function in practice.

Yes, it sounds like a good idea in principle however, before getting too carried away about this new initiative, it is a very good idea to see its detailed ‘blueprint’ before we can be sure of 4 things : 1) it’s ability to initially take off, 2) the practicality of the endeavour, 3) it’s long term viability and 3) it’s durability. Of course, as more information becomes available to the wider public, answers to these questions would become clearer. In the coming months, the practicalities and durability of this initiative will be put to the ultimate test. The Nigerian factor will kick in as different stakeholder groups with disparate interests will slug it out.

Already, Mallam Farouk Yarma (the owner of a private football club in Gombe State called Yarmalight FC) have come out on social media to say that any talk of a private league should entail alignment to FIFA, CAF, NFF and Wafu.

However, this proposed private league is expected to function outside the auspices of CAF initially, meaning that the winners of the league are not able to participate in CAF competitions to start with.

But, there is a precedence for this in another part of the world. Look at the case of the Indian Super League (ISL). It started as a private enterprise in 21 October 2013 – separate from the established Indian League (I-League). During its first three seasons, the competition operated without official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), similar to CAF.

In the cause of its evolution, it faced major problems and fought major battles with the established and disgruntled I-League (equivalent to Nigeria's NPFL) for its continued existence, survival and relevance. It could not participate in continental competitions; it could only run for very few months initially; it wanted to replace the I-League is the Premier League in India (which it has thus far failed to do) ; it wanted to run its league concurrently with the I-League ; and it battled hard to keep investors on side. Happily, it is a success story today having overcome most of its obstacles (however, it has failed to relegate the I-League to division 2 so they function side by side). It can now participate in continental competitions and the league is now here to stay having weathered earlier storms.

So, this new NPIFL (Nigeria Private Investors Football League – as it is going to be known) can be a huge success. However, one thing that worries me in the Nigerian context is how our approach to ‘conflict resolution’. If the clubs that have come together to form this new league can have a cast iron memorandum of understanding that addresses how they will approach issues that will emerge (rather than calling one another enemy of progress and then breaking off), then there is hope. Also, they have the huge machinery of the League Management Committee (LMC) and some powerful stakeholders in the NFF to contend with – many of whom may not be happy about their existence.

However, just like in the case of the Indian Super League, if this new NPIFL can take off and weather initial turbulent storms, then there is no reason why it cannot be a successful long term venture, one to bring smiles to Nigerian faces.

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