Are you the one to come or should we expect another? By Fred Edoreh

The tile of this piece reflects my thought on Sports Minister Sunday Dare. He started well, at least on Twitter, warming himself up to the public and corporate community as he seemingly pointed to the direction of his ministration, albeit, still a bit unclear to me.

He revved up with a thunder and panicked the Pinnick-led NFF on the failing of our football in four international youth competitions, also had a word for the League Management Company and, recently, the ministry descended to butcher the Athletics Federation of Nigeria.

On the other hand, he seems to be looking away as the President of Para Powerlifting Federation of Nigeria, suspected to be name-dropping Mrs Aisha Buhari, appears to be riding roughshod over other board members. She is said to have signed on Nigeria to host the Powerlifting World Cup from 2020 to 2022 without the protocol consent and approval of the government, the ministry nor the board, neither has she tabled the projections for funding the events nor satisfactorily accounted for the sponsorship receipts on the January 2019 International Open Championships, a situation which led the Lagos State Government to threaten to withdraw support. But these have remained suppressed.

Reality should have dawned on Dare with the 2019 IAAF World Championships at which we posted only Ese Brume’s long jump bronze, but what followed was a probe on the AFN on how Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oborodudu were entered for 100m which they declined to run. This and the signing of a kit deal with Puma led to further face off with the AFN and its break into two factions, the one led by Olamide George supported by the ministry and the other led by its President, Ibrahim Gusau, impossibly declaring its independence of the ministry, in protest.

If the Minister was properly briefed, he should have known that Blessing had consistently avoided running the 100m in the past five years – from the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville to the 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba and at the 2019 Africa Games in Morocco. So, rather than seeking scapegoats over same occurrence at the World Championships, it should have been a wake call to the reality that our athletes are thinning out and we have not built replacements.

We have witnessed the steady decline of our hitherto glorious men and women 4×100 and 4x400m relay quartets at the global stage just as we no longer have strong athletics competitions in the country save for the increasing marathons; we have seen our athletics turn to the Diaspora to seek athletes second rated in their countries of stay; we have seen that we scored zero in all sports at the 2012 London Olympics; also scored zero four years after at the Rio 2016 Olympics, save for the football bronze.

We should seen that rather than bothering Blessing to perform in the races, her strong area is long jump in which she won silver medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the 2013 World Championship and and 200m in which she won bronze at the 2013 Championships; that there is something to be considered in the fact that Ese Brume also brought a long jump medal in 2019 Chsmpionships just as our only individual Olympic gold by Chioma Ajunwa was from long jump; that Blessing and Brume’s performances result from the deliberate investment by the Delta State Government to build them through the enabling American collegiate sports system and that we are deficient in such elite development capacity.

Now that the Japan 2020 Olympics is upon us, it is hard to see how we can perform better than we did at the 2019 World Championships in which our athletes did not show up, but while we are wont to participate in every next international competition as we do, we must be true to ourselves to mind the trail of our decline and fix the fundamental deficits our structure and policy.

Achieving this will require a minister who is not just eager for personal glorification through populist impressions. As Dare should know, should our athletes perform well or not in Japan, it would the result of the actions or inactions of the ministers before him. He thus owes himself and this nation the humility to build for the future by addressing the obvious deficiencies that have handicapped us through the years.

Sadly, I fear that a politician will always be a politician, tuned to a cacophony of voices with differing interests, but my prayer is for him not to be drawn back into the realm of acrimony that Dalung left us.

Before Dalung, Tammy Danagogo was sucked by associates into the political conflict for the control of Nigeria football and the league management and bequeathed on us the Pinnick vs Giwa crisis from his resolve that “Margari must go” following disagreements on the handling of funds on the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Dalung pursued the NFF disruption agenda with greater intensity, as if his life depended on it, and left us this legacy of unrelenting and poisonous propaganda of corruption against the leadership of our football.

It is from that reign of venom that Dare noted, rightly, at the last NFF AGM in Benin City, that “even though many of the allegations have not been proven, the atmosphere around football is polluted on account of the negative perception of corruption” which cannot “court new partners and sponsors for the federation.”

While he assured that he “will not be distracted by unfounded allegations, insinuations, brazen blackmails and the putrid smear campaign that have now become a cancer in our sports administration” I shrug at the fact he focused his speech, yet again, on corruption which reinforces the de-marketing intended by his predecessors who expressly sponsored and supported the smear campaigns.

I thought he should have brought fresh air with a new language, new focus, to rekindle hope. I had expected him to speak more of necessary synergy with the NFF and the LMC to achieve the mutual objectives of growing Nigerian football rather than blowing the old trash at them once again. Even at that, the onus for respite to Nigerian football rests on the Minister, for it is easier for the ministry to readdress itself on its relations and communications with the federations than for the federations to rescue themselves from the murderous powers of government ministry decided on applying power negatively.

While he talked about regulating academies, he should know that academies are not only about football, that their formation is an open enterprise and their true life derives not really from federations but from the communities and government whose children they help build in complement of institutional programmes, with the federations only to regulate on curriculum and processes.

The nursery of our sports rests squarely on government to address what impetus, through facilities and other provisions, it puts in place to elevate and sustain schools, youth, grassroots and community sports as the primary foundation for sports development. It is from this that champions actually emerge through time. Sadly, even the big facilities controlled by the federal government are in the worst state, keeping the Super Eagles constantly seeking new venues for their games.

I am delighted, as the minister revealed, that the ministry “has spent the last four months working with experts and the organised private sector to turn our sports into a business” but it must be said that the business of sports can only thrive when a truly sports environment and culture is engendered, for nothing can come from nothing.

It is not enough to sell us a proposed summit on industrializing sports, as a big deal, for we have had many talk shows and the knowledge of the “how tos” is out there. What we need is the will of the ministry and the federal government to honestly mind and embrace their primary role in sports development by investing and also mobilising various tiers of government and the corporate community to put in place the requisite sub-structure for the attainment of a sustainable sports culture.

For instance, we know that there is a dearth of sports facilities and deficit in public access to sports. The government will therefore be deceiving itself by expecting honours from every international competition and hoping to industrialise sports when it does absolutely nothing to promote and support mass access to sports for both children, youths and adults.

If 50 million of our 200 million population are actively engaged in sports, at the rate of just one sports shoe at say N5000 bought per person per year, that is N250b in sales. Add other sports wears and merchandises, add equipments like balls, bicycles, chin guards, rackets, bats, nets, dumb bells, skipping ropes; add construction of mini sports facilities across schools and communities, we would be heading for close to a N2 trillion domestic sports economy with added value in job creation, public health, sports tourism and attraction of corporate sponsorships.

But, we must first break eggs to have omelet. I can tell that 99 out of every 100 primary and secondary schools in Nigeria have neither seen facilities and equipment for squash, basketball, tennis, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball, cricket, rugby, swimming, badminton, golf etc, nor practiced them, nor have coaches in them. Even the individual sports like boxing, karate, judo and taekwondo which require mostly the physical being lack instructors. Added to these is the huge void in schools and community sports competitions.
For the most part, sports for physically challenged persons are limited to the sports councils in the capitals of a few states like Lagos, Delta, Edo and possibly Kano. These are the fundamentals to address in rebuilding our sports else our results will remain the same poor for the long that we dodge the real issues, pass the buck and intimidate the federations.

Talking about the football league which the minister also hammered on, the issue is not about transparency. There couldn’t be greater transparency than the LMC rescuing the the league from the old arrangement in which Supersport was paying about $5m for the broadcast per season while only $1m got to the league and the clubs, and $4m went elsewhere. This held for almost nine years until the LMC came up to eliminate the middle man structure and directly renegotiated a $8m annual fee that gave the league the boost between 2012 and 2016 before Supersport pulled out.

Interestingly, the beneficiaries of that regime have not let go, they crave for a recovery of their control of the NFF and league management to revive their sweet days. Such “stakeholders” are in the sports ministry and hands in glove with others at the concierge of various federations waiting for second chance. They are among advisers of various ministers mounting pressure, tongue in cheek with gainsaying arguments.

And, contrary to suggestions that Supersport pulled out because the LMC did not agree to a downward review of the broadcast fee when forex skyrocketed for one of those with the minister’s ears has further suggested that “only four people” run the league and “should be sacked”, it is known that Supersport pulled out and laid off staffs not only in Nigeria but various other African countries also, reason being that the cost of production became excessive and, because of recession in the economies, sponsors and advertisers were not forthcoming to help them cover their costs.

In Nigeria, for instance, it cost them about N15m to produce one match, with air transportation, accommodation, feeding and security of over 30-man crew per trip, their over N3b-worth OB Vans crisscrossing the country every week and, at a point, crew members were kidnapped and only God knows how much they coughed out for their release.

The issue is, most of our venues do not have existing facilities to support communication and broadcasting. The company now prefer to buy rights from foreign leagues in which they do not have to incur any costs to produce the games, just to receive clean fields and broadcast.

The challenge here is that as Supersport pulled out, no indigenous Nigerian broadcasting firm, including the national carrier, had the capacity to take up the right. Attempt by the LMC to bring on FOX in 2018 to produce and air was also frustrated by the events that trailed Nigerian football after the World Cup. The LMC has only recently got NEXT TV from Hong Kong to produce and distribute while 9Mobile provides the OTT platform to bring the visibility of the league back, hopefully by the first quarter of 2020.

The declaration of incomes on league transfers is really besides the matter especially in these days of the new FIFA Transfer System. The only thing the LMC has not done is to ban all Nigerian clubs for falling short of licensing standards, advisedly because we might not have any club left.

On this, the Honourable Minister ought to consider it a duty to use his political leverage to relate with and talk the state governments which promote the clubs into opening up for more professional and business-like approach to club ownership.

The point is that if we really want to industrialise sports, we should be looking at recharging governments political will, rebalancing our national sports policy to align with current global approach and rebuilding the capacity of the complementing sectors like broadcasting on which promotion is anchored; textiles for sports wears; manufacturing for sports equipment; banking and finance for funding facilities construction especially in schools, grassroots communities and league centres; platforms for sports education; and investment promotion through the deliberate development of more attractive incentives for sports sponsorships. These are a minister’s roles, beyond the populist theme of corruption to get at targeted persons.

So, as we enter 2020, if we can have a consensus on using power to edify, not to despise, to contract, not to destroy, I ask my brother again, are you the one to come or should we expect another?

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