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The little things that matter

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By Onochie Anibeze
February 2013: Seigha Porbeni called me from Port Harcourt where he was watching the last Secondary School Games and lamented this way:

‘’Onochie, more than 40 years ago I competed as a student in this country wearing puma spike shoes. Today, our students are running barefooted. What’s happening?’’

I think that most readers of this column can answer Porbeni, a veteran in track and field.

Porbeni himself knew what the problem was but I guess that he just wanted  to share his sad experience with me.

I may be repeating myself if I say that what is happening in our sports is a reflection of the state of our polity – rot in many areas. Porbeni knew that 40 years ago, athletes could not have protested against high standards set to make them improve as they did last week in Benin.

Porbeni could as well say that more than 20 years ago, he drove from Lagos to Benin in three hours, the same distance that takes more than five hours today due to the poor state of the road.  40 years ago, pipe born water flowed where we have wells and boreholes now.

40 years ago, you got a job on leaving school.  40 years ago the standard of education was higher than what it is today. Standards have fallen in almost all sectors, not only sports.

At the time Porbeni was talking about, Nigeria could boast of many competitions among schools. The system to develop athletes was there. Porbeni enjoyed sports scholarship from secondary school to the university level at the time. Which schools in Nigeria now offer scholarship to worthy athletes?

Last year, Stephen Keshi visited his former Primary School in Lagos and discovered that a building now stood on the field that produced him. It is so in many schools today. I would always refer to my beloved Government College Umuahia. We had four soccer fields with a hockey pitch, two tennis courts, a standard track and field ground (different from the soccer pitches), a cricket oval, basketball court and a golf course at the masters quarters. That was one secondary school in Nigeria then.

The madness extended beyond sports. The land housing the zoo in Enugu where, as kids, we visited, has been sold out and houses now occupy our once famous Enugu zoo. It’s same with so many estates in Nigeria where the original plan accommodated gardens or parks for recreational activities. FESTAC in Lagos is one. I was among those who played football at Polo Park in Enugu. That’s where you have Shoprite Mall now. The madness is everywhere. No respect for nature, recreation or GREEN life. Madness has taken over reason.

But do we continue to celebrate our past and continue to lament about our present conditions without doing something about it? We know that one of our major problems is lack of merit in appointments, otherwise, the man in charge of secondary school games would have insisted on some standards. Many who have served as sports commissioners and ministers of sports would have never been so appointed.

Leadership has always failed Nigeria in all areas including sports. We returned from the London Olympics and made so much noise about our failure that the Federal Government held a sports retreat in Abuja. But as I write today, there’s no programme to elicit hope.

No action to match their words. My advise today is for us to begin to do some little things that may help us. Let’s not rely on our leaders and those who run our sports at the national level. Let’s forget the federal government and begin to do a few little things on our own. When we get it right, they may key in. Let’s begin to provide little services and do things that may breath life into our sports in our communities and see if our leaders could be influenced to think positively.

Can a school principal insist on some standards for their Inter House Sports Competitions?

Can all states organise Secondary School Games from Local Government to State level? Can our schools hire coaches to train their athletes? Can parents take note of the huge money in sports and  encourage their children who have talents in sports to take to sports? Can the ministry of education in every state insist on schools having play grounds before they can be registered?

Can we have sports departments in ministries of education for the purposes of keeping data on student athletes and other professional services that can boost sports programmes in schools? How can we read about athletes earning over a $100,000 for a 100m race with all other expenses paid and we don’t want to develop sports?

How can we read about footballers earning up to $200,000  a week and we sit down here waiting for government to lead the way? Why are we denying our children a share of the billions sports stakes every year? Our governments have been failing us and I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Those ogas at the top won’t do much for us. Government was not in charge of sports at the time Porbeni ran in secondary school with a puma spike shoe and earned scholarship here and there more than 40 years ago. I paid N5,000 for my last son to partake in their  inter house sports last term. Can we hold Inter House Sports every term and if all students pay N5,000 for that, the schools may hire coaches and run good sports programmes that may produce worthy athletes.

So, can we begin to do the little things that may matter? The scholarships are still there in America if we can produce the talents? American universities are still ready to offer scholarships to student athletes but they can’t find qualified ones any more. Let Parents/ Teachers Associations begin to do some little things in the schools. Even suggesting ideas is enough contribution. Let’s help ourselves because government officials will continue to fail us.

Self interest will continue to take the better part of them. I believe we can begin to change and lead the way for our children to partake in sharing the billions of money sports throws up every year. Let’s invest in sports. It will pay us to do so.

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