Rivers State sports commissioner Hon. Boma Iyaye says Rivers United have been “compelled” to ask the Court of Arbitration for Sport for “the proper interpretation of the applicable rules on the pronouncement and propriety or otherwise of the actions and decisions” of the League Management Company in arriving at a final league table for the curtailed 2019-20 Nigeria Professional Football League season.
Addressing the media in Port Harcourt on Thursday, Iyaye revealed the state government’s stance while issuing a point by point rebuttal of the recommendations of the NFF Football Committee which backed the LMC’s decision to employ points per game and head-to-head in determining the final table – a decision that placed Enyimba second and Rivers United third in the final league standings.
Rivers United’s dispute with the LMC stems from the latter’s decision to use head-to-head rather than goals difference in separating teams tied on points in the final league table.
At the time football was initially suspended on 18 March because of the coronavirus pandemic, Plateau United (49 points), Rivers United (45 points) and Lobi Stars (43 points) led the standings having played 25 matches each while Enyimba were fifth on 36 points having played just 20 games.
The points per game measure applied in determining the positions of all 20 clubs when the league was ended in June placed Plateau United clear in first place while Rivers United and Enyimba were tied on 1.80 points.
Enyimba, however, nicked second place on the basis of their head-to-head with Rivers United.
Rivers United appealed against the use of head-to-head as a tiebreaker claiming it conferred excessive advantage on Enyimba as only one leg of the tie was played – in Aba which Enyimba won.
But their appeal was dismissed by the LMC and the LMC’s position was upheld by the Football Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation which unanimously recommended the final league standings be endorsed by the NFF’s Executive Committee.
The Rivers State sports commissioner, however, dismissed the recommendations of the Football Committee as a collection of “half-truths, deliberate distortion of facts and obvious misinformation”, adding that the club’s recourse to CAS was necessary as “It’s obvious we cannot get justice from the Nigeria Football Federation”.
Iyaye stressed that Rivers United were not in disagreement with the LMC’s central argument for ending the league which they hinged on the “force majeure” occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic nor were they in dispute about deciding the league by PPG.
He, however, took exception to the argument that “force majeure” as defined by the NPFL’s rulebook empowers the LMC to discard its own rules to end the league.
Pointing out that the NPFL regulations already provides a clear sequence of tiebreakers, Iyaye wondered why the LMC vaulted over goals difference to head-to-head which is the last option provided in the rules.
“Rivers United club never objected to the PPG, and continues to support the PPG system agreed by the majority of the clubs,” he said.
“Our position has always been that rather than use an inconclusive head-to-head to separate two teams tied on points, the rules guiding the operations of the NPFL states that goals difference shall be the first option to be used in separating teams that are tied on the same points followed by higher goals scored and lastly head-to-head.
“We are only against the selective application of the rules. Our argument is simple, that since there is an established order separating two teams tied in points, the LMC is bound to follow that order as provided in their own rules.
“So, if in article 29 of the NPFL rules say “positions will be decided by points and goals difference then goals for and against before head-to-head, they cannot jump and go to head-to-head.”
Iyaye outlined eight grounds of objections to the report of the NFF Football Committee including one that claimed the final PPG table standings had been presented to all NPFL clubs in May and that neither Rivers United nor any other clubs objected to “the standings and/or the application of the head-to-head to break the tie” at the time.
“The LMC could not have presented a PPG table as far back as May when the decision to adopt the PPG was only taken on the 24th of June 2020, following a meeting of the management of the NFF, LMC and NPFL clubs wherein 18 out of the 20 NPFL clubs voted in favour of the adoption of the PPG model to rank teams on the 2019-2020 league season table,” he noted.
“In fact, as at May 2020, the decision to suspend the league had not even been discussed or approved by the NFF.”
The Rivers State sports commissioner said the position of the LMC and NPFL was a clear “case of injustice and undue victimisation” against Rivers United who must now go in search of justice at CAS.
“In the light of this development, the Rivers State government, sponsors of Rivers United is compelled to seek the proper interpretation of the applicable rules on the pronouncement and propriety or otherwise of the actions and decisions of the LMC on the matter from the Court of Arbitration for Sports. It’s obvious we cannot get justice from the Nigeria Football Federation so we will go to where we can get justice.”