By Kelvin Omachonu
The SEALS Cup is gradually reaching its climax after over two weeks of grueling, tasking football. Four teams remain in the competition- Human Kinetics, Philosophy, Classics, and Geography. The boys have been separated from the men, and soon the best department will be crowned.
So far, a talking point for almost every participant has been the below-par officiating that has followed the tournament. The organizers have managed to hold their own despite the tight schedule with classes and school activities. But, they have failed to tighten some loose ends. In football and sports in general, there are bound to be hitches, even at the biggest of stages, a few hiccups occur.
For instance in the incumbent world cup, in the game between Brazil and Switzerland, the lights went off for a few seconds. However, when mistakes happen often and repeatedly, it becomes a source of worry, and of course, opens the door to complaints.
One of the biggest challenges with organizing a football competition in this kind of environment is timing because you are dealing with students. As such, timing should be adhered to very strictly, especially by the organizers and match officials. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the revamped UISU SEALS cup. A lot of games have been shifted from the original time. Even the teams that flout the timing rules have hardly gotten any form of punishment.
In one of the games between Arts and Social Sciences Education (ASE) and Statistics, Eduviere Allen was supposed to be the referee but he was late. It was another referee that started the game, then after halftime, Allen took over. There have also been instances when there would be no linesman, and teams playing were asked to nominate match officials from within(quite popular at the group stage games that took place at Awo stadium). In fact, there was a case where it was the child of a trader at SUB that served as the linesman.
Of the initial budget provision made by the committee, there was an allocation for match officials. So why then are games taking place without a complete match officiating team and oftentimes a match commissioner?
Public Health player Kunmi had bitter complaints when his side took on Human Kinetics. “We were supposed to play at 10 am but our opponents had not arrived. Unfortunately, there was no official on the ground. We had to start the game by 11:45 am. That game was supposed to be a walkover for us, but we still had to play it because both the opponents and officials got to the game very late. The same incident in our last group-stage game. We were fully kitted and had to stay in the sun for close to 20 minutes because the Animal science team supposedly had refused to pay a fine they incurred”
Asides from the haphazard and dynamic schedule, the level of officiating at the SEALS Cup so far has been bad, to say the least. Usually, when players and coaches complain about wrong calls, it is because they are on the wrong end of it. However, even neutrals have also complained about the referees.
Two referees have been the man in the center in most of the SEALS Cup fixtures so far, but UI Pioneers coach Allen Eduviere has handled most of the games, and only a few of those games have ended without complaints. In fact, if not for the strict laws that the institution has on violence, some of those games would have ended in brawls. “Allen officiates matches like he is a godfather, you cannot talk to him. He sees himself as untouchable,” A Political Science player, who pleaded anonymity said.
“In our games against Educational Management, Allen awarded an unjust penalty. In our game against Philosophy, our keeper was fouled in the box, but Allen refused to give it. And when we tried to talk to him, he refused to listen to us. He does not even listen to his linesman, those ones are just there for nothing. The officiating has been very poor.
Political Science are not the only team that criticized the officials. Animal Science players were left fuming after their dramatic 2-1 loss to Classics.
“The officiating in our first match was good, but in our second game at Awo Stadium, the officiating was very bad,” an Animals Science student that pleaded anonymity said. “In our second game, we had some penalty calls that Allen refused to give. When I spoke to him after the match, he said he did not give those calls because we are not professional players. The linesmen are not well dressed most time, I don’t know why a linesman will wear palm and boxers.” We reached out to the organizers of the SEALS Cup, and they admitted that they had heard about the complaints, and “the situation is being looked at, and necessary steps have been taken to improve.
On the scheduling issue, they stated that most of the games were shifted on the request of players who had tests or important classes. “It’s funny that players are complaining because all of the postponed matches are from the teams end. We have to shift matches to accommodate people that have tests, practicals, and all sorts.”
It is surprising that the issue of poor officiating is still being looked at. The complaints have been on since the competition began two weeks ago, and there has not been a notable change. In fact, if indeed the numerous complaints have been taken into account appropriately, someone else should be handling the whistle in the semifinals and not Allen.
All the teams participating in the SEALS Cup paid 15,000 naira, as such the money raised from the total registration is 420,000 naira. With the funds available to them, it would be surprising if they do not employ better referees, as it is only expedient that they do so.