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Why FIFA cannot complain!

By Onochie Anibeze
Where are those who say that Nigeria can host the World Cup? Where are those who are still trying to convince the government that we can host the Commonwealth Games and are pulling all strings to start the bidding?

I hope that they are watching the shame that is Nigeria 2009. I hope that even government will, by now, appreciate the level of our decadence, the level of our backwardness, the deep rot in our polity and begin to look inwards for repairs rather than exposing our mediocrity and dying culture to the world.

Yes, dying in the sense that some years back our sports culture was rich. Then,  thousands flocked sports venues to be part of the spectacle. Just like what happens today in Europe and other countries with rich sports tradition, Nigerians travelled to other cities to watch football games.

In this country, we saw teeming supporters hire buses to travel to other parts to cheer their darling teams in soccer matches.

We saw Rangers fans travel in hordes to Lagos, Jos and Benin to cheer Rangers. We saw supporters of then IICC, Bendel Insurance, Mighty Jets of Jos, Water Corporation of Ibadan, Kano Pillars travel out of their cities to cheer their teams.

Then, league matches were crackers. The element of surprise was there and fans travelled because  winning away matches was not unusual. Now the best an away team gets is a draw.

The corruption that has destroyed other sectors of the country also crept into sports and referees are now producing magic with whistles.

Club officials influence matches, especially their home games. It is almost some taboo to lose home matches. And if fans knew results of matches why would they go for games?

Suddenly, we began to lose everything. The fans started disappearing. Now our teams play in empty stadiums. Chief Oyuiki Obaseki, the head of the Nigerian league board says that he is facing the challenge squarely.

We are watching how he tackles the corruption. I wish him luck. But we are still paying the price of what corruption has done to our football. The other factor is simply incompetence. Those who manage our football are either corrupt or incompetent.

This is not about the Nigeria Football Federation. It cuts across the entire country. The states are worse than the federal government. I can only vouch for a few like Delta and Lagos.

It is a national problem. Just as votes don’t count in our elections and wrong people continue to emerge as our leaders, I don’t see how there can be a paradigm shift in sport. When the head is bad, it affects the whole body.

The problem of our sports is still the problem of leadership. If we had good leaders, they would have done something about reviving sports in schools.

The ministry of education would be working with the ministry of Youth and Sports to ensure sports takes its rightful place in our country. If we had good leaders, it will reflect in our football because the system will produce the right ones to run football.

The ones who will take wise decisions and get our football cracking again even if it takes time. Otherwise, we will continue to plunge deeper and deeper and what we are all witnessing in the ongoing FIFA Under 17 World Cup will continue.

We are setting negative records in all areas. I’m not sure FIFA has ever had it this bad. From transportation to communication to facilities and even simple accreditation,  it has been problem galore. There was power failure in Kano, Water Polo in Enugu following heavy flooding of the pitch that halted the game between Burkina Faso and New Zealand. It was so bad that the turf was raised by the flood.

Bad job. Moments later Calabar had its share of the misfortunes. Rain forced them to stop the game between Iran and Columbia. In Abuja, during the first match between Honduras and Argentina, the rains exposed the poor drainage system and the pitch was waterlogged, a scene the whole world caught on television just as it happened in Enugu, Calabar and Kano.

As the televising has been capturing the true Nigeria as showcased by these incidents, foreign print journalists have been having field days too.

The one that has surprised fifa most is the attendance in many centres. Kano and Kaduna have been exceptional as expected. Enugu tried to fill the stands by conveying students to the stadium.

Their effort should be commended. At least, the people responded to the pleas to attend the games. Calabar has not faired badly in this respect. But it has been so disappointing in other venues. Abuja has been pathetic.

The opening ceremony and matches lacked the atmosphere full houses ensure in games. The empty stands told our story. Fifa had to appeal to us to come watch our games.

Gates were thrown open for the second match day in Abuja. 40,000 tickets were bought. Still the fans would not respond. Students were hired into the stadium for the little effect Nigerians saw.

I don’t think that it has ever happened in fifa events. Students can be taken to stadiums. In fact, Egypt took students to stadiums. But never had authorities bought tickets and announced that people should come and take and enter the stadium free and they still refused to exhaust the free tickets. About 15,000 turned up in Abuja.

Out of this, about 5,000 were students. So what happened to the remaining tickets? Even Lagos, the acclaimed home of football in the country was not impressive.  We know that we have got so many things wrong.

But if it’s so bad that we shy away from entertainment, from soccer that is a unifying factor, a sport that excites and makes us to momentarily forget the ills of our polity, then something serious is happening to us.

If we can’t get people to watch soccer events of this magnitude, how can we successfully host commonwealth games? With all these problems, how can fifa, in this generation, ever approve any of their world cups to hold in Nigeria again?

The fifa I know will not come here again, at least not in this generation. But this is a point I must stretch going by what happened before this one was awarded. The signs of laxity were there. The signs of failure were there.

FIFA cannot claim that they didn’t know. But because some of them stood to benefit from our corrupt system which was oiling their palms, they kept coming, threatening never to come again but continued to come.

Nigeria’s Ogbono Soup can wet any appetite, I tell you. This is why I never expected them to publicly and loudly condemn the messy situations they met on arrival.

This is why I never expected them to complain badly for they are partakers. But this is not a blanket condemnation. There are those who didn’t know what was going on.

FIFA is a great body but they are no saints. The attitude of our faans could be said to be a rebellion against the rot in our football.

However, I’ll not lose hope in our sports. When I see what Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan is doing in Delta State, some confidence returns and I have hope that some day Nigeria will change.

Fashola is in the same category and as far as sports is concerned, Gbenga Daniel is making an inroad. Let’s not give up on Nigeria but for now,  let’s avoid exposing our backwardness by striving to host these big events. The shame of Nigeria 2009 is enough..


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