By Yemi Olus
Over the past weekend and earlier this week, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare was in Lagos and among other things, engaged with various stakeholders, including embarking on a visit to Making of Champions Track Club to interact with the athletes and management of the organization.
While at the TeslimBalogun Stadium where the athletes were training, the Minister took some time to interact with members of the media, especially with regard to his plans for Sports development and Nigeria’s preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Here are some of his responses to the questions asked:
On the journey so far since his assumption into office
“It’s been exciting but at the same time tasking, but then I’ve been able to go around in terms of not just familiarization, but also trying to get some of the key core areas I will be pursuing. When you look at Sports development, you talk about the infrastructural rationalization. Without infrastructure, without sporting facilities, you can’t really start to talk about Sports development. Beyond the brick and mortar that we see I’m also interested in the equipment that we have in these sporting facilities.
“I’ve been able to get a sense of what obtains across the country; I’m not happy that over the years we’ve not had a maintenance culture in terms of maintenance and management of these facilities that has deprived our athletes of the necessary structure to train. We’ll pay attention to restoring some of these major facilities, not just the football pitches or the terraces, but also I’ve been to the indoor sports stadium; I’ve seen the weightlifting and a couple of areas in which we can see clearly from Morocco, we’re really strong in Wrestling, Weightlifting, Table Tennis, Badminton, we need to bring back some of these sporting facilities, and government is determined to do that working with the private sector and that process is already ongoing.”
On his plans for Sports development
“The future of Sports development in this country rests on three major legs: one is discovering a business model around sports in this country, that is bringing private money and funding, the private-public partnership; that’s the first leg. The second leg is creating some kind of sport fund that will take care of welfare: the health insurance, the stipend, the grants for the elite athletes and also the local home-based athletes; it’s critical. The third leg has to do with the facilities and the infrastructure that we have.
“We must bring what we have back to standard, for instance this country should have nothing less than a dozen standard world class football pitches. Right now we can only speak of about two, but I can tell you confidently from the engagements I’ve had, I’ve just finished a second private meeting with AlhajiDangote and I can tell you clearly that there’s progress. Yesterday I had a one hour meeting with Chief KessingtonAdebutu: solid promise, so we’re set on a course that is irreversible, but we will bring the changes we need. They will be incremental because there is no Silver bullet to problems that have piled up over the last 20 years, but I can tell you we’ve taken those steps and Nigerians will start to see these facilities come back, so those are the three major areas that will bring back the sports development that we desire in this country.”
On preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
“Basically if we had the funds, we would do perhaps six months camping; in the past we’ve done three months, but this time around we’re looking at five months camping, and that journey from the administrative aspect starts when we bring all the key stakeholders and the drivers, that’s the federations, we’ll bring them together in Abuja, we start that process and then we’re going to have camping (the meeting held on Tuesday, October 15).
“The camping will be in three or four locations depending on what the sport is, but again we will not spread ourselves thin; we will focus based on facts: what are the sports in which we can really compete? Are they seven, are they eight? Then we will focus on them and then we will compete.”
On whether Team Nigeria can win medals in Tokyo
“Yes, I’m an optimist and it’s too early to call in the scores of the medals for this country. The preparation for the Olympics normally starts after you end one, so beyond what you see in Morocco and Doha, these athletes have been competing in different tournaments and competitions, then individually they’ve been training; that is preparation.
“This time around, we’re not starting too late, of course not too early, we have precisely nine months to go and we’re all revved up. Two weeks ago I did ask every federation to submit their report based on camping, training, the athletes, we’re looking at that. But based on the experience we’ve had in the past, we’re going to focus on areas where we have competitive advantage, where we have athletes that are on the world stage already. We’ll focus not on 20 sports; we’re looking at seven, so Olympics Tokyo 2020, Nigeria will not go there to try; we’re going there to compete for the Gold, for the Bronze and for the Silver.”