The Bamenda Municipal Stadium will on Saturday provide the setting for day one of the 2003 elite football championship. The only match of the day will pit Victoria United against PWD Bamenda. Beyond the symbol of welcoming the Abakwa boys back to the hall of fame, the opening hurdle sets the rules expected to underline a hitch-free season. At the level of preparations, nothing appears to have been left to chance.
The programme of matches is now known days ahead of the opening ceremony. The 30th playing day has been slated for October 5, 2003. Transfers and licences for the new year were made public last week in spite of the last minute rush by club officials. So far cases of litigation are minimal and the FECAFOOT Secretariat is benefiting from the services of a more organised staff. In the last General Assembly of the national football ruling body, a decision was taken to reduce the number of first division referees. Out of a total sixty seven referees, seventeen were dropped. This season, only fifty referees have therefore been retained. Martin Omgba Zing was elected the best referee of the season. The reduction of the total number of referees from sixty seven to fifty came after a series of physical and intellectual tests. The demotion of Augustine Ebot from international referee to division two remains the black spot of the entire exercise. He is said to be a victim of settlement of scores by some club officials who refuse to accept the fair-play rule.
Yaounde clubs face some difficulties at the beginning of this season, due to the closure of the Omnisport Stadium. The rehabilitation of the Omnisport and Military Stadiums has forced the teams of the Capital City to seek temporary refuge out of town. It was expected that Renaissance will help upgrade a play ground in Ngoumou and bring tourists to that part of the country. The Douala Re-Unification Stadium will be the hub of attention during the first phase of the season. The South West Province failed to get another first division team in spite of the opportunities that came knocking at the door. Prisons Buea, the old war horse dashed the hopes of many due principally to the total absence of leadership in the group. With two teams in division one — Mount Cameroon and Victoria United, adepts will have to rotate between the Limbe Centenary stadium and the Buea Municipal stadium. In the North West, football has returned to its base. The demise of Kumbo Strikers created a vacuum that has been filled by PWD Bamenda.
As a province with the highest number of first division teams, the West remains the axis around which action revolves. Fovu, Racing, Unisport, Stade, Bamboutos and Sable will attract thousands of spectators to the West Province every week. Cotonsport is the lone crowd puller in the three northern provinces. Sahel pulled the rug off the feet of many during the interpool competition but was knocked out on a technicality. The quality of play is expected to improve on condition players are given the treatment that will keep them from seeking greener pastures too soon abroad. The new status of players promoted by the Association of Footballers is yet to have a practical application. Inspite of FIFA’s statutory provisions, and the instructions of MINJES, the exodus of young players continuous unabated. Ages are increased or decreased depending on the whims of the buyers and sellers or their agents. The non respect of contractual terms between players and Club Presidents remains at the core of relations between the two. It is the duty of FECAFOOT and its satellite committees to set records straight in this domain. Before a team receives a licence for a player, it must be clear that the obligation of the team vis a vis the player will be respected.
FECAFOOT is moving towards a situation where match officials will be paid in advance. Before reaching this point, the remuneration of referees and match delegates has seen minor adjustments upwards. But the ideal situation remains the CAF and FIFA standards where payment is sent straight to the bank accounts of referees. In previous seasons most referees stay for weeks without remunerations after a match. The activism of most club officials subjects referees to enormous pressure that reduces their performance in the field of play. The conflict of jurisdiction between two main commissions of FECAFOOT was a source of disorder in the last season. The referees commission under Laurent Petcha refused to recognise the authority of the Homologation and Discipline committee over referees. Contradictory decisions were always taken by the two commissions on the same officials of the same match. The Cotonsport versus Canon match of the last playing day is a case in point. The Homologation and Discipline committee that perused the match documents found nothing wrong with the referee, Augustine Ebot. But the Referees’ Commission found him ‘guilty’ under the pressure of some interested members and proposed a suspension sanction of one year to the Secretary General of FECAFOOT. His eventual demotion from international referee to division two is not unconnected to this conflict of jurisdiction. A lot has to be done to reduce the weight of influence peddlers that crowd the corridors of the FECAFOOT structure. That said, given the sterling management qualities of Iya Mohammed, the President of FECAFOOT, the future appears bright for the football body. Hope, it has been said, ‘springs eternally in the human breast’.