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Rio beyond sports minister

By Onochie Anibeze

Many know my views on the blunders of sports minister Solomon Dalung. But if truth be told, he may not, largely, be held responsible for the huge flop that was Nigeria at the just concluded Rio Olympics. He is only partly to blame for the fact that the little time he had to prepare Nigeria’s athletes he spent QUALITY TIME broiling in the leadership tussle in the Nigeria Football Federation and doing things that belittle his office.

Dalung
Dalung

What do you think of a minister who goes to the European Championships and posts a selfie to brag about his trip and saying that his trip was sponsored by a private company? Didn’t he know that it was wrong to accept such sponsorship as a minister?

What do you say to a minister who goes to the Olympic Games Village and poses for a picture at the dining hall where he queued up for meals meant for athletes and team officials? He was simply amazed being at the Olympics.

What do you say to a minister that adds a name to the team travelling to Atlanta for training only to deny ever knowing anything about same Atlanta camp? What do you say to a minister who authorises that a press release be issued of him visiting the players in Atlanta when nothing of such happened? What do you say to a minister who vilifies a team making effort to achieve results for Nigeria?

There are many more instances, but these few paint a good picture of Dalung, Nigeria’s sports minister. Some people get off balance when suddenly some benevolence transports them to a position they never dreamt of. It is worse when such people lack the capacity and exposure to manage such offices. Failure follows. That was what happened to Nigeria at the Rio Olympics. Dalung partly contributed to it, but it will be very unfair to blame him wholly for Nigeria’s failure.

The man is barely one year in office, and you don’t prepare for the Olympics in one year. However, there are so many things that could have been managed better. When Dr. Amos Adamu, as NSC Director-General started the NSC Relays about seven months to the Beijing Olympics, I told him it was a beautiful programme that should be sustained, although, I made it clear it was already late for the Olympics. However, two or three athletes made it to the Olympics from that programme.

You can imagine if Dalung did the right thing for our Olympic preparation. It was possible for an athlete like Ese Brume to win another medal for Nigeria other than the one Samson Siasia’s team fetched for us. The same Siasia, the minister, had accused of ‘child trafficking’ for taking his team to Atlanta for training delivered Nigeria’s only medal at the Olympics. If the minister asked questions and consulted the right people, they would have advised him on how to go on with our preparation rather than waiting for the usual late release of funds.

Dalung waited for the budgetary allocation that usually comes late to prepare our team. Even a magician cannot do anything with the release of money two weeks to the Games. It has become our tradition to mourn after every Olympic Games. We always fail to get it right. And getting it right is not just preparing for the Games only but planning and implementing sports development programmes that will make the sports industry a huge one in Nigeria.

A good preparation for the Rio Olympics would have probably earned Nigeria one or two more medals. I’m not sure it would have been more than that based on the standard of athletes Nigeria can boast of at the moment. That’s why I would not blame the sports minister for our failure. We don’t have athletes of Olympian heights any more.

The many years of degeneration have brought us to this level where we now watch Ivorians, Kenyans and South Africans dominating even in the sprints, where we once stood behind the USA and even rivalled Jamaica. Our sports plunged when sports died in our schools, simple. We have written about these things for years but no government, in recent times, has been serious about sports development.

We have the talents. We still have the potentials, but we have not had a government that thinks sports is an important sector. Where do I begin this time? First, many kids don’t have the avenues to showcase their talents. Their schools lack play grounds. The few budding athletes we produce out of grit and resilience can’t get the proper transition they need to become elite athletes. Poor management of these potentials following equally poor sports administration completes the cycle.

The structure we have in Nigeria for sports development appears faulty and many papers have emerged from many seminars, workshops, and summits. Successive governments have never considered the sector important enough for serious attention. The Muhammadu Buhari administration appears to lack this political will.

President Jonathan showed interest but didn’t know what to do. My friend Segun Adeniyi was among those trying to gather information on the way forward for President Yar’Adua when the man passed on. Before him was President Obasanjo who also showed interest but lacked the political will to drive sports and make it the industry it is in many climes today.

Revolutionalising sports in Nigeria goes beyond what the sports minister of Nigeria can do. It depends on the government of the day. This is the position of Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq of the First Fuels, whose knowledge of sports amazes me. I’m hoping that such a man someday sits in power. We were reviewing Nigeria’s Rio Olympics performance, and we agreed that Danlung couldn’t have done any magic.

However, while I added that he could have helped a little bit if he was knowledgeable about the terrain he was supervising, Abdulrahaman posed these questions before his conclusion. ‘How many schools have standard sports grounds? How many Local Governments have standard sports grounds? How many parks or play grounds do we have in our localities and cities? Where do you have tennis courts?

Where do you have basketball courts etc.? Where do you have sports facilities? If we had them, sports culture would naturally develop, and talents will be everywhere. The world is changing, but we are not reacting to these changes. We had sports in our schools before and from there talents were nurtured.

We had the Principal Cup, The Hutsie Cup, The Academicals and so many competitions that produced talents, many of whom went to study in the USA on scholarship. That was how Nigeria produced athletes like Charlton Ehizuelen, Innocent Egbunike, Moses Ugbusien, Bruce Ejirigo, Modupe Oshikoya, Maria Usifo, Mary Onyali, Tina Iheagwam, Falilat Ogunkoya, Olapade Adeniken, the Ezinwa brothers, etc.

There were competitions in boxing, wrestling, tennis and we had athletes. Now there are no more athletes because sports is dead in our schools and the infrastructure are not there. The grounds that produced the past athletes have given way to buildings in some places.

So, rather than improve on what we had so many years ago, we have now destroyed them. So, if a truly sports minded person is offered the job of sports minister, the person should be courageous enough to tell the President the huge task expected and how to go about it. It is about the school system. It is not what a sports minister can achieve without government backing. And this may only happen if we have a President or a government that wants to turn around sports.”

Well said Abdulrahman. I know that some will argue that government has no place in sports and that sports should be driven by private organisations. The private companies always come in after the government would have provided the basics and structures that will produce the stars. The private companies want to associate with stars that will give them mileage for their sponsorship.

That is the truth. Government leads the way in most of the countries where the corporate world has joined in boosting sports. The government first makes sports attractive to the corporate world to champion its development. That is the way it works. The Collegiate system in the USA is largely responsible for America’s domination in sports. Is it not government? The biggest sports fiesta in Jamaica is their Secondary School Championship which attracts the Prime Minister, and tickets are sold out before the games begin.

So, in a nutshell, sports has collapsed in Nigeria because the school system does not accommodate sports any more. Victor Omoregie, Vanguard’s Corporate Affairs manager, argues that the problem started with the creation of the sports ministry, which tried to take management and control of sports from the ministry of education. This is a topic for another day but in a way he has his points because the sports ministry does not develop our sports. There are no programmes to suggest that.

They simply lead out teams to participate in competitions. The ministry rarely organises or runs development programmes. A well structured National Sports Commission is what Nigeria needs at the centre while the states play their role too. If the states play their roles well, sports will grow in our schools. So it is also about the governors of the states and not only the President.

We operate a funny federal system of government, where everybody depends on the government at the centre. A true federalism will see the states producing their athletes and nurturing them to stardom. In Nigeria, the states bank on the Federal Government to produce and train their athletes. It’s bizarre.

Sports will never become the industry we dream of it if this does not change. Sports therefore needs restructuring too. Against all these backgrounds, banking on the sports minister to change Nigerian sports will not work although appointing a man with vision and knowledge of sports could help.

So, the flop in Rio was far beyond what Dalung could have rescued, although he could have helped if he had the capacity. We failed in Rio because of dearth of elite athletes in Nigeria and partly due to the poor preparation supervised by Solomon Dalung. And If Dalung is absolved from Nigeria’s failure, he may not escape reprimand for his conduct that left much to be desired. But if, however, you consider his background you may, again, see with him. Rio was beyond him.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.