By Prof Emmanuel Ojeme
In this column, recently, I have labored to enrich our thoughts on certain sports development issues, particularly, relating to the role of government in sports. Secondly, I have vigorously argued that International Sports Federations are creations of the developed world as an extension of its imperialist programme.
I am delighted to observe that a lot of Nigerians are changing their perceptions positively about the relationship between International Sports Federations and their local affiliates. The conspiracy game and blackmail of government still remains in the horizon.
The purpose of this paper is to drive home the point that the political leadership of a sovereign nation has control over every aspect of social life within its national boundaries including sports, economy, security, education and others. It is a fallacy therefore, for any International Sports Federation to exceed its legitimate role of coordinating international sports events to dictating to a country how it should organize its sports programmes.
What has happened over the years is that knowingly and/or unknowingly, local sports operators have ceded so much power to International sports organizations to the extent of conceding absolute control of sports. This is very wrong. Take a look at all the organizations, the leadership remains in charge for several years. They organize international events in different nations and secure government support for this purpose. At the same time government should not control sports at all or even play a part in its governance. When this happens, it becomes an ‘interference’. I hope we now know better. Sports is a social activity experienced by people or citizens of defined countries. So, as long as they are citizens, loyalty must go to the nationality of participants first and foremost. It is sacrilegious to blackmail one’s country because of pursuit of personal interest. Such persons must be punished by the authorities.
The government has a legitimate role in sports development as in other aspects of nation building. It provides, for example, the policy instruments, the facilities, the financial resources for sports development. In terms of international sports competitions, of course, Government must ensure that the interests of its citizens are protected.
The point must be driven home too, that if for any reason, the Government does not want its citizens to engage in an international sports competition, there is nothing anyone can do, including the exalted International Sports Federations.
In all of this, it is most advisable for Nigerian sports operators to always respect the position of national authorities on sports issues. I do not believe that our political leadership will do negative things against the interest of sports and its large followership. In the same vein, there is always room for dialogue on conferring issues. Any individual or group that uses the International Sports Federation to blackmail or arm-twist the hand of Government against her will or wish in any sports issue is a Saboteur.
Concerning the ban of Nigeria by FIFA, I personally consider it a big insult to our nation by this arrogant organization. Again, this is the effect of the global power which F.I.F.A. has cleverly packed for itself. As I have argued previously in this column and in this write up, there should be a renegotiation of F.I.F.A statutes and powers. It should limit itself to coordinating international sports events without overreaching to local domain dynamics of sports. Unfortunately, people who deal with F.I.F.A. take it as a given, and so, it has become an octopus. There has to be a way of curtailing its powers. The ‘ban’ is an instrument of coercion to enforce its total control of football for its own organizational benefits. But it does nothing to the low level of education of the large population of its products. It does little or nothing to the unedifying social behaviour of many of the Icons of this sport.
It does little or nothing about imposing meaningful cognate educational qualification for persons aspiring to leadership. Hence, football is becoming a wayward sport around the world, which should not be the case. FIFA should play a role in ensuring the educational rehabilitation and occupation redevelopment of the large army of footballers who enter a football academy at age 5-10 years, turn professional at 15 to 17 years and end up with a truncated educational development status with a diminished competitiveness for leadership roles even in a sport they may have done so well.
In the foregoing paragraphs, I have argued that the government of a country and hence, its political leadership is a key factor in sports development and not the International Sports Federation. It is an error of judgment to have given so much powers to International Sports Federations, beyond the coordination of international sports events. I have also argued that sport operators must owe their loyalty to national sports authorities; it is an act of sabotage of a nation, for its citizens to undermine the national interest in favour of international sports organizations. We should also recognize the fact that without national governments, international sports federations cannot thrive.