By Onochie Anibeze
Last minute changes in space allocation killed this column last week. I serve it today. But let me briefly touch on two things that happened after that.
First, the 2014 World Cup draw. With Argentina, Iran and Bosnia in our group, Nigeria, many say, could not have had it better. I agree but may I recall that in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Nigeria also had an easy group with Argentina, Greece and Korea. It was even such that, at a time during the games, Nigeria needed just one win to qualify to the next stage.
But we failed and woefully too. I therefore, plead that we stop celebrating the seeming good draw and plan well for a good outing. Yes, we have a chance to go far. Can we take our chance?. More on this later.
After receiving the Nigeria Sports Award as the Best Governor in sports development and the Business Day Newspaper’s Best Governor Award, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of DeltaState also nipped the Best Governor Award from Sports, Business and Media Awards all within one month.
I had written before that if only five more governors could be like Uduaghan and Liel Imoke of CrossRiverState, Nigerian sports would shine again. Hosting national teams like Imoke does may not actually be developmental programmes but Imoke has been marvelous in track and field. He has a school programme that could produce results long after he would have left office. A little is manifesting now with their repeated victories in secondary school games.
What has earned Uduaghan more accolades and respect is that he is into football, track and field, swimming, wrestling, tennis and he has continued to build and develop facilities in the state.
The Governor’s Cup for soccer among the secondary schools, the Awoturo Eleya Cup, a track and field special event for schools and local communities in Delta, is a novel and the sponsorship of some athletes are some of the programmes that make Uduaghan stand out. His passion for sports appears not to know bounds.
My only fear is that some of his programmes may die at the end of his tenure if his successor does not share his passion for sports. And that’s why I plead that he insists on sports curriculum in schools in Delta. Let the games masters resurrect in Delta, let there be track and field in schools in Delta.
Let there be Delta School Sports Festival and a programme that could nurture talents from chosen sports like tennis, track and field, basketball, swimming etc. I’m sure that after one or two successful sessions, the corporate world can buy into the programmes and drastically reduce the financial burden on government. I plead with other states to try these out too and emulate Delta and CrossRiverStates.
And now what I prepared for last week.
I have read some criticisms on the appointment of two foreign coaches for track and field by the sports minister, Bolaji. Some good points were raised.
However, I do know that Bolaji Abdullahi means well for our sports. I was initially skeptical about his genuine interest for sports development until I saw some of his moves to correct many wrongs in our sports. He is human and could err. And as far as track and field is concerned, hiring foreign coaches may not be a mistake.
The mistake, would, however be doing so without adequate plan and set-out programmes that will produce the athletes that they will work on. For now, there are not many of such programmes. Do states have sports festivals?
Do States have schools sports festivals? Where are the National Secondary Schools Games like we have in Jamaica and not the kind of games we had in Kwara, where athletes were running barefooted in a 21st century event? How do we reintroduce sports culture in schools and accommodate sports curriculum in every secondary and tertiary institution?
Would a campaign to change the rot in our schools have been more appropriate now than signing foreign coaches? Some will agree while some will not. The minister hopes to change things in Nigeria with the youth games in Abuja. I welcome this but it will not be enough. Not much will be achieved until we take sports back to schools. I have written on this several times and I will not be tired of doing so until we begin to get it right.
It will be a mistake to hire foreign coaches where you do not have funds to execute programmes that will be the springboard for any achievement or even their own programmes.
It will be a mistake to hire foreign coaches if you do not have the funds to pay their wages for at least 10 years. I say 10 years for the rot in our sports is deep.
It will be a mistake to hire foreign coaches when you do not have plans for Nigerian coaches who will work with them.
I pointed some of these things out to Julius Ogunro, the Special Assistant to the minister in Moscow during the last World Championship, where they were concluding plans to hire foreign hands for track and field. His response was brief but instructive. “The minister is passionate about developing our sports and he is ready.”
Against this background, I want to continue to observe and see how Bolaji Abdullahi will turn things around for Nigeria. It may be wrong to be pessimistic now. It will be in my character to lend my support until he clearly begins to derail and we may begin to throw stones as my colleague Ade Ojeikere would put it. For now, I want to wish Abdullahi the best and urge him to see what he can do to convince the Federal Government to insist on certain standards in our secondary schools and tertiary institutions.
Abdullahi has impressed but I do not agree with all he does. The fanfare his ministry bankrolled just to mark the reopening of the Abuja Stadium after it was re-grassed and renovated was uncalled for. Organising a retreat over the success of the Under 17 team in UAE will cost money that could be useful in another area. We did not hold a retreat to win in UAE. And the right thing to do is to start good preparation early like the Manu Garba team did with great support from the Nigeria Football Federation.
The minister can as well ask NFF to document how they prepared the team and what transpired from their selection method to the African Championships and the World Cup in UAE. I don’t think we need a retreat on the Under 17 success for anything that cannot be produced or served by those who were responsible for the victory. If it’s not late, the minister could cancel that retreat and use the money for another aspect of sports development.
We must not be wasteful in these hard times. The minister must also encourage some of us who maintain that he needs more money to achieve results. He will not be doing so to engage in programmes that will not readily impact on sports development. Otherwise, the minister has done well so far.
The other day he said that track and field remained his number one sport. I was excited knowing that football could help itself and that we have a minister who could help other sports. Can he do something for tennis that is dying? Can he lift the weightlifters, wrestlers, boxers, basketball players etc?
I have my eyes wide open, Honourable Sports Minister. Time will tell.