NPFL: Rangers, Enyimba abandoned clash reignites VAR debate

Legendary Nigerian footballer Austin Okocha reignited the debate surrounding Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology in the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) with a playful gesture during a recent match.
Watching the clash between Sporting Lagos and Abia Warriors at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Okocha, a former Super Eagles captain, jokingly called for VAR intervention on a 70th-minute foul against a Sporting Lagos defender.
This lighthearted moment occurred with the score precariously balanced at 3-2 in favor of the home team.

Abia Warriors were awarded a penalty due to the foul, but Sporting Lagos goalkeeper Christian Nwoke made a spectacular save to preserve his team’s lead.

However, the recent abandoned match between Enugu Rangers and Enyimba, marred by fan fury over a disputed penalty call, has turned Okocha’s playful act into a serious discussion.

The televised encounter , a potential title decider with immense significance for both teams, lived up to the hype as fans packed the stadium.
The NPFL, under the leadership of Gbenga Elegbeleye, has seen significant growth, attracting larger crowds and sponsors.

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This progress is commendable, but to become a world-class competition, further development is necessary.
Fair officiating remains a persistent concern. While referees are human and prone to errors, several contentious decisions have recently plagued the league, including Enyimba’s two-point deduction for a match disruption against Doma United due to an overturned goal.
VAR implementation
It is widely agreed VAR implementation in the NPFL would significantly improve officiating accuracy, elevating the league’s overall quality and reputation.

Experts believe the existing live television coverage offered the official broadcasters, StarTimes presents a unique opportunity for seamless VAR integration.
“The infrastructure is already in place, making VAR a relatively straightforward addition. ” Segun Olamide a Media Communication expert explained.
“This technology would provide referees with an invaluable tool to review critical decisions and uphold fair play.” He added.
The adoption of VAR is a crucial step towards modernization and professionalism as the NPFL continues to expand its reach.
This technology will enhance fairness, accuracy, and transparency, ultimately benefiting players, teams, and fans alike.
Is 2026 too late?
While some are pushing for immediate implementation, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President Ibrahim Gusau, according to a December 2023 Punch Newspaper report, has pledged to introduce VAR into the NPFL but he is not in a hurry.
The NFF boss plans to send referees abroad to study VAR implementation in established leagues, aiming for domestic league integration by the end of his first term in 2026. “We will surely get there,” he declared during the December NPFL management retreat in Abuja. “VAR will be effectively implemented, but it will be a gradual process.”

READ ALSO: NPFL: Massive crowd looms again as Ibadan braces for Shooting Stars, Rangers clash
Sola Olumuyiwa, an ardent fan of the local league believes while VAR represents a significant leap forward, exploring alternative solutions in the interim could be beneficial.
He said: “The NPFL could consider utilizing experienced retired referees as booth reviewers to assist match officials in high-pressure games.
“Additionally, investing in better training and technology for on-field referees, such as improved communication systems, could also help to improve officiating standards.”
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