AFCON 2023 to have ZERO Nigerian match officials

AFCON 2023 to have ZERO Nigerian match officials
Credit: Icon Sport

In damning news for Nigerian football, Africa’s football governing body, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), skipped Nigeria when selecting referees who will take charge of the AFCON 2023 tournament.

The list contains 32 match referees, 33 assistant referees and two Video Assistant Referees (VAR) from various countries on the African continent. These match officials are scheduled for a crash course with CAF in preparation for the 34th Africa Cup of Nations tournament to be held in Ivory Coast.

The omission of Nigerian officials from the list has led to an uproar from fans and the Nigeria football news scene.

Togo, Benin Republic match officials make AFCON referees’ list ahead of Nigerian match officials

The CAF referees and match officials list is a comprehensive list of representatives from 34 of the member nations that comprise the Confederation of African Football.

Officials from North Africa, the continent’s most developed football region, were the majority on the list with Senegal, AFCON 2023 host nation Ivory Coast Ghana and Benin Republic holding it down for West Africa. Nigeria’s conspicuous absence from the list was made even more glaring when officials from Togo and Djibouti were seen on the list.

This sparked a debate about the state of Nigerian officiating on social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter). Nigeria’s officiating has come under fire for as long as football has existed in the country. There have been many incidences of poor calls and a lack of welfare and training from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for the referees which leads to poor decision-making on the pitch.

One user used the medium to express his state of despair in the officiating situation of the country upon seeing the list. “I would hope this will make things better, but that would mean me hoping for the unreachable,” he wrote.

Another alluded to the fact that the Nigerian football governing body does nothing to improve the level of referees in the country, suggesting that CAF are not going to pay attention until they do. “You can’t give what you don’t have. Simple. You have to build capacity first,” the user posted.

Another went all the way to rope the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) into the mess. “This is down to media coverage,” the user’s post began. “Sadly I still don't think they are watching or pay serious attention to our league. No one is going to take a league that comes up with different formats every year serious.”

New Sports Minister charges Nigerian referees to be better

The omission of Nigerian officials by CAF will hit hard for John Owan Enoh, the new minister for sports in Nigeria.

In one of his first duties as the head honcho for sports development in the country, he visited the National Stadium (Moshood Abiola Stadium) Abuja for assessment in August 2023. There, he met with referee assessors who were doing some work.

He charged them to update their knowledge of the game and become one of Africa’s best.

“Over the years, referees in Nigeria have been heavily criticized over their performances in our leagues, but I want to trust that we will build on the recent successes achieved and win the confidence of our people,” Enoh said.

“Referees are critical stakeholders of the game, and we need them to be at their best at all times, for the growth of our football. You have the potential to be the best in Africa and you must work hard to be.”

With the latest omission of Nigerian referees from the continental showpiece, Enoh could spark an overhaul of the refereeing system in the country which will be good for Nigerian football.

This article was most recently revised and updated 9 months ago

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