By Onochie Anibeze

On the streets of Cape Town, last Monday, a South African fan, Bozo Mbongisi, stopped our Jacob Ajom and sought to know what Nigeria was doing that South Africans were not doing that makes their football inferior to Nigeria’s.

It was just about 24 hours after Nigeria bashed Bafana Bafana 3-1 in their last group match, a victory that sent South Africa out of the Africa Nations Championship, CHAN, which they are hosting.

The South African sounded frustrated. He saw their team as a hopeless one. He was emotional and expressed despair over their failures in football, especially against Nigeria.

Summarily, Ajom told him that Nigeria had the talents they lacked.

Ajom was right. Nigeria’s superiority over South Africa in football has nothing to do with organization, planning or preparation. It is simply that we are more endowed in football than they are. Every country has its area of specialty. South Africans were once world champions in Rugby. They are endowed in that sport. They are fairly good in track and field and great in rowing, swimming, tennis, cricket, boxing and some other sports.

Kevin Andersen, a South African, just got to the 4th round of Australian Open, one of the four biggest tennis events in the world being a Grand Slam. They are among the best in the world in Rugby, Cricket, Tennis and Swimming. The point here is that they are doing well in the sports that they are endowed. Can same be said of Nigeria? I don’t think so. And that’s why we should cry more than Jacob Ajom’s friend.

Fikile Mbalula, South Africa’s Sports minister, used harsh words to condemn their team. We should lament more than the man. Are we doing well in the sports that we are endowed?

With all our talents in football, we have never got close to being world champions. I mean the real World Cup. The best we have achieved in World Cup were two second round outings – in USA ’94 and in France  1998. I may also mention the 1996 soccer Olympic gold medal but I wouldn’t beat my chest over it as the Olympic soccer is a youth competition meant for players who are under 23 years although countries are allowed to field three senior players.

Youth competitions are development programmes and Fifa never uses them to rate any country’s football.  Football countries also see youth competitions as development programmes. They provide the platform to develop players and not approach them with the win-at-all costs attitude  that Nigeria has carried on all these years.

That’s why we have won the U-17 event for a record four times but are today ranked 41 in the world and no where among the best football countries in the world. That’s a sport that we have great potential to be at least among the top 10 in the world. And because of inconsistencies in the declaration of the ages of our youth team, many just Nigerians refuse to celebrate youth victories.

The last one in UAE was slightly better. We have the talents but we lack the organisation to reach our potential in football. South Africa have the organisation but lack the talents to rank high in football. These are the challenges for both countries. But South Africans rank high in the sports that they are endowed and even get to be world champions. So, we should cry more than Bozo.

Imagine the organisation of the South African league, a league that Nigerian players crave for to earn well and live better lives and not for quality and competitive football. Their remuneration, facilities and general professionalism cannot be compared with the 15th  century football we run here. It is just that we have the talents. If we get close to the organisation the South African footballers enjoy, Nigeria will be among the best in the world.

A player with the kind of potential Sunday Mba has would not end up in a lower division club in France with a contract that fetches him not more than $4,000 monthly and with a clause that says he will not earn a pay if injured. If our league had the organisation that South African players are enjoying in their league, Mba would not rush into a somewhat enslavement contract in France. He will earn good pay here and fans will jam the stadia to watch him and other stars and would not be fighting over Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, wearing their colours and forming fan bases for clubs which do not know that they exist. Funny!

There are many things that should make us lament more than South Africans in sports.

We have the talent in tennis to rank among the best in the world. But we lack the organisation to help our players reach their potential. We once had Nduka Odizor, Tony Momoh, Sadiq Abdullahi, David Imonitie, Yakubu Suleiman, etc. What happened when they left the stage? We died. Why? No organization!

When South Africa was under ban for Apartheid policies, Nigeria was the number one tennis country in Africa. Where are we today? Not among the top 20. Shame!

In track and field, we have the potential to be among the best in the world. Berth Cameroun, Jamaica’s 1983 world champion said in the 2012 sports summit in Asaba that when he was competing, Nigeria had the potential to challenge USA in athletics and Jamaica was scared by top Nigerian athletes. “With your resources and population”, Cameroun said, “Jamaica should be learning from you and not the other way round”.

What happened to Nigerian track and field? We have always lacked the organisation and funding to reach our potential in the sport. It is same with boxing, weightlifting, wrestling, table tennis and judo.

It is against these facts that I cry more than the South African, who opened up to Jacob Ajom in Cape Town. What can we do to reach our potential in the sports that we are endowed but lack the organisation to reach our potential? I will appreciate your contributions.


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