By Paul Bassey
The Ethiopian Airlines flight that was to take me to Algiers via Addis Ababa took off from Lagos by 1.30pm on Saturday, few hours to the kick off our World Cup qualifying match.
What this meant was that I was going to fly for over six hours anxious to know the result of the match. Nothing to worry about, I said to myself. There was no way Ethiopia was going to come to Calabar and deny us a world Cup ticket. No way. We had done so much in Addis that even a one goal victory for the Ethiopians will not stop us from going to Brazil.
Four hours into the journey, there was an announcement. “ This is your captain speaking. For those of you who are interested in the football match, Nigeria is leading 2-0, but the match is not yet over…….” YES…I screamed. YES….Brazil here we come.
I started imagining the carnival atmosphere that was Calabar, the historic city that has so much to celebrate, midwife of our U-17 foundation and World cup qualification triumph.
Congratulations Nigerians, it has been one week of joy, laughter and back slapping. Suddenly our psyche as a nation, dimmed by myriads of economic and political problems, has been given a lift. Let me start from the Presidency, the Oga himself, a man whose interest in our sports especially football has yielded so much dividends. GOOD LUCK all the way.
The Senate and House of representatives should be commended. President Mark’s interest in sports has always been manifested. I served as a Youth Corper in Niger when he was Military Governor and can attest to his interest and love for sports.
Then comes the Sports Minister, Alhaji Bolaji Abdullahi………let history record and properly too that the arrival of the youthful minister signaled the end of bitter rancor in the Nations football house and the beginning of progress untold. On assumption of office the first thing the Minister did was to ensure peace in the football family by calling all the aggrieved parties to a roundtable where their differences were resolved. This happened in December 2011 after he was appointed the Supervising Minister of Sports. Peace has brought progress.
After a hiatus of 19 years, Nigeria won the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in February 2013.
Similarly, our Under 17 side, the Golden Eaglets just won the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Minister Bolaji will tell you that under his leadership there has been a repositioning of sports in the country.
In athletics, just like in football and weightlifting, Nigeria has become the number one nation in Africa. Never in the history of African athletics has one nation been winner of the Senior, Junior and Youth Championships at the same. Nigeria has won the whole three in the last two years! First we won the Senior Athletics Championship in Port Novo (June 27–July1, 2012), followed by the inaugural Youth Championship in Warri, Delta State (March 2013) and recently, we won the Junior Championship in Mauritius (August- September 2013).
After a 14 years’ absence on the medals table of the IAAF World Championships, Blessing Okagbare won two medals for Nigeria in the last IAAF World Championship, which took place in Russia in August 2013. She won a silver medal in long jump and a bronze medal in the 200meter race. The last time Nigeria won any medal was at the Seville’99 IAAF World Championship in Seville, Spain, where Gloria Alozie and Francis Obikwelu won a silver medal in the 100m hurdles and a bronze medal in the 200m respectively.
And to think that the NSC has been reinforced by the appointment of the experienced Hon Gbenga Elegbeleye as Director General! Even the sky cannot be our limit.
Of course Governor Liyel Imoke and the people of CrossRiverState we cannot thank enough. Take a bow Sir.
Step out Alhaji Aminu Maigari for recognition and commendation.
This board lays claim to being the most successful in the history of the sport in this country. I remember that after two failed attempts at even qualifying at U 17 level in Africa, this regime put together a team that will guarantee the future of our football if well handled.
What about the winning of the Nations Cup and the qualification for the World Cup? All those who one way or the other are related to the Maigari regime should henceforth walk with their heads held high.
Just as I wrote about the coaching crew of the U-17 last week, what else can I say about the record breaker called The Big Boss and his colleagues? What about this current crop of Super Eagles who have the opportunity of writing their names in gold if they excel in Brazil, go a step further than their country men in previous world cups?
Am I expecting another round of largesse for these players after the Nation’s Cup rewards? Why not? Winning the Nations Cup and qualifying for the World Cup are two very different achievements.
Talking about rewards I have been quick to defend the monetary incentives given to the U.17. I do agree that international sports norms frown at such a practice, preferring instead scholarships and other incentives in kind.
Unfortunately our environment has it that the only schools some of those boys attend are soccer academies! Also, most of them are bread winners in their families and the monetary reward really comes in handy.
State Governments and corporate organizations lining up to honour and reward the boys should desist from the tendency of picking only those from their states. You cannot single out players for honour in a team sport where they competed under the unifying umbrella called NIGERIA.
Before I forget, the amounts doled out to the back room staff of the U.17 by Mr President was nothing to write home about. Five hundred thousand naira to the team doctor? Three hundred thousand to the Team Media Officer? They deserve more.
Let the celebration not stop, please until I come back from my FIFA assignment in Algiers to join in the merriment.
See you next week