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Like Kenya, Like Nigeria

By Ikeddy Isiguzo

WE have spent years agonising over  funding of sports. The illusion is that governments spend billions of Nigeria on sports. It is an illusion because the money is released late and the funding takes no proper account of sports timetables and the implications of the funding system.

During the Vision 2020, the Sports Thematic Group put considerable time into funding of sports. One of the major recommendations was that governments must draw up long term funding schedules for sports, if the funds will be useful to sports.

An example is the Olympic Games. A few days before the contingent boarded the plane for the 2008 Games in Beijing, government made the money available with pomp. It said something to the effect that now the contingent had the money, it was up to the athletes to keep their own part of the bargain by winning medals.
I remember when the Vision 2020 group made a presentation to the President at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in August 2009. Then Minister of Communication Professor Dora Akunyili challenged sports administrators to ensure more Nigerian participation in more sports at the Olympics. She wondered aloud why other countries competed in so many sports and Nigeria would participate in a handful.

We chuckled. The gathering applauded her insight.
Nigeria believes that handing out money months to the Olympic Games or any major international competition means funding sports, adequately as governments would add.

Explanations that years of hard work lead to qualifications for the Olympic Games and the linkages among major international competitions do not make any meaning to the authorities.

The qualify rounds for the football event of the London Olympics started last year. Football could get funding, but other sports like weightlifting, wresting, taewondo, tennis, athletics, boxing where Nigeria has better chances of Olympic medals, go through qualification processes that do not attract the attention football gets because the qualifiers are mostly stage on zonal bases or the teams and individuals travel to competitions abroad to secure places in the Games.

What has made these qualifiers more important is that they are almost tied together such that a boxer who wins at the All Africa Games and the Commonwealth Games would secure points that enhance his chances of qualifying for one of the Olympic spots in his class.

In athletics, for instance, qualifications would be through participation in internationally recognised meets, with results that fall within performances that would be accepted for that event .

These qualifications almost run through an unbreakable circle –2006 Commonwealth Games,  2007 All Africa Games, 2008 Olympic Games, 2010 Commonwealth Games, 2011 All Africa Games, and 2012 Olympic Games.  In-between, most of the international federations hold their world championships, which also count as qualifying points for the Olympics.

Nigerian authorities have no interests in following these schedules through which others qualify for major events and which means that funding should be available for the qualifications,  and not only for the final teams to the competitions.

Some weeks back, the Kenyan women’s volleyball team, six-time Africa champions, and the most likely winners of the gold medal at the All Africa Games in September, could hardly raise the money to attain the qualifiers in Ethiopia.

The Kenyan government restricted its interests to buying tickets for the team. It gave no money for feeding, accommodation, or allowances. It did not pay the team’s participation fee. As the wrangling was going on, Kenyan sports authorities re-affirmed their commitment to sports with the announcement that they had made adequate financial provisions for Kenya’s presence in Maputo, Mozambique, venue of September’s All Africa Games.

Volleyball Kenya managed to raise the funds and won the qualifier in Ethiopia.
It struck me that months ago Nigeria said it had paid for training facilities for the 2012 Olympic Games in London while athletes are groaning for funds for training even for the All Africa Games.  Like Kenya, we are mostly interested in appearing at the big stage, even if the teams are ill prepared.

When Goodluck Jonathan received some national teams, last month, he told them, “The 2011 All African Games in Maputo, Mozambique, and the 2012 Olympics in London, England are around the corner. Now is the time for our sports administrators, the various technical teams and our gallant sportsmen and women to do all that is necessary to ensure that Nigeria not only come tops at the All African Games but also emerge among the top nations at the London Olympics.”

The speechwriter obviously did not understand that time to prepare for those Games was gone!

Our Missing $236,000

THE $236,000 that has been missing from the Nigeria Football Association since March 2009 elicits minimal attention from people.  I am told that the case is still in court, which is another way of asking us to keep quiet. If we listen attentively, we may just hear the wheel of justice grinding to its destination. I only thought we could have asked for an accelerated hearing in an era of accountability and transparency.

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