By Patrick Omorodion
*Vanguard Publisher ponders
*As experts proffer way forward
Following the decline of the countryâ€™s sports in recent times, Vanguard Media organised a one-day Conference Hall Wednesday at its Corporate Headquarters in Lagos where experts spoke on the ills in sports and ways to tackle it.
After the brain-storming session with such personalities like Chief Oyuki Obaseki, Chairman of the Nigeria Football League, ex internationals, Sylvanus Okpala and Emeka Ezeugo as well as veteran journalists Paul Bassey and Mitchel Obi, with Vanguardâ€™s Editorial Board Chairman, Ikeddy Isiguzo moderating, Vanguard Publisher, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu wanted to know if the session really trashed the issue well and proffered solutions too.
In a chat with Bassey and Obi, Mr. Amuka-Pemu asked rhetorically â€œwhat is really the problemâ€ but before Bassey or Obi could utter a word, he added, â€œNigerians are sick over the poor performance of Nigerian teams (football) and something must be done about itâ€.
Both Bassey and Obi went on to let him into what they think are the solutions like they had moments earlier postulated at the Conference Hall. Mr. Amuka-Pemu was convinced the issue (Nigeriaâ€™s poor performance) was well tackled but his mien showed that he was disturbed about the way things are going now.
Okpala was disturbed like Uncle Sam, as the Publisher is fondly called and said at the Conference Hall that if something is not done urgently, the country would in a space of a few years find it difficult to qualify for the Africa Nations Cup as well as other sports in the continent.
He said his fears are hinged on the fact that the game of football especially is not being developed and young players are not being discovered. According to him, the best way to discover young football talents are through academies and â€œthe best academies are the ones run by clubs from where they feed their teams.â€
He argued that because football is being run on sentiments rather professionally, the best players are most often not considered for invitation, stressing that because of it Nigerian players are not able to get lucrative contracts abroad because the standard in Europe is very high and they canâ€™t meet up with it.
Ezeugoâ€™s main concern was the calibre of coaches recruited to handle the teams who in turn are not able to offer any technical input to the difference in the players, as he narrated how he went for an interview for a coaching job in a club in the South East of the country only to discover that most members of the interview panel who knew next to nothing about the game already had their own candidate for the job.
â€œMost coaches have no business being in football (in Nigeria), how many of them have gone on refresher courses to update themselves,â€ he asked, adding â€œthings cannot go right in Nigerian football because the people who are the custodians of the game bring sentiments into it.â€
Speaking from the angle of the league which he manages, Chief Obaseki layed the blame of bad officiating on the doorstep of club officials, especially the chairmen, who he accused of always trying to bribe referees into giving the victory through the back door.
To curb the corruption, Chief Obaseki revealed to the Conference Hall that referees indemnities have been increased from a mere N5,000 per match to N40,000 in addition to accommodation and transport allowance approved and paid by the NFL rather than by the clubs which was the practice before.
Arguing that the City of Abuja was not built in a day, the NFL boss pleaded with Nigerians to give his Board some more time as corruption would soon stamped out or reduced drastically with the pruning of referees from about 200 to 80 and Match Commissioners from about 199 to 60. He said the NFL has about six â€˜no nonsenseâ€™ Match Commissioners who are sent to matches described as stubborn or difficult to curb the incidence of influencing of referees to help teams win matches.
Chief Obaseki used the occasion to inform that he would quit the stage in the first quarter of next year as the NFLâ€™s election would hold that period, as he called on knowledgeable Nigerians to come forward to contest as the NFL statutes as it concerns election has been changed.
â€œEvery Nigerian is qualified to run for the election, you no longer have to be alub chairman to contest the election, that aspect of the statutes has been changed,â€ Chief Obaseki said.