In sports administration, no cheers

June 1, 2019
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It is a new dawn in Nigeria with the return of President Muhammadu Buhari for his second term. The President showed keen interest in the country’s participation in competitions in his first term. He spared time to talk with the athletes before key games. He rewarded winners and approved stipends for those who didn’t win. The President showed remarkable understanding of the dynamics of the industry. He resolved the intrigues associated with various facets of the games much to the consternation of the departing minister. Need I remind the President that everything stops temporarily when our sports ambassadors are engaged in tournaments?

However, Nigeria would have gained more from sporting events if the President had appointed a damn good minister for this sector. The last minister did his best, but it wasn’t good enough (catastrophic to say the least) because of the needless controversies, which crippled the industry. Solomon Dalung hid under the cloak of fighting corruption to make the country a laughing stock. If he had enough evidence indicting sports officials, he ought to have taken them to the EFCC and/or ICPC. Rather than allow these bodies do their jobs, he cried blue murder when those he wanted out remained in office.

The minister’s penchant for deriding those in the sporting industry as corrupt blocked effective marketing for those who had sporting programmes and competitions, which they thought corporate bodies could finance. These people failed because the few firms willing to do sports business were worried by the consistent cries from the man who should have led them in the marketing of sports brands. Nigeria joined the league of countries who got walked-over for competitions we began the qualification series two to three years ago.

To avoid such a shameful reputation, the President of the Wrestling Federation, himself an Olympic gold medallist for Canada, even though he is a Nigerian, borrowed money for our wrestlers to attend qualification tournaments, ahead of the All Africa Games and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It was that bad. The few wrestling tournaments Nigeria hosted or attended arose from the Olympian’s contacts with his state governor and others. In fact, the Rivers State Government has been very helpful to the federations just as Bayelsa, Edo, Delta, Lagos and Akwa Ibom states to mention a few.

In fact, Nigeria attended more tournaments – courtesy of governors’ benevolence, more than government funds. If we rely on governors for survival, how do we hope to host sporting events? Little wonder, government owned facilities are derelict, with the minister unperturbed about them. How does the ministry spend the money budgeted for infrastructure? Every succeeding minister leaves our facilities worse than he met them.

We are forced to beam our searchlights on Nigeria-born sportsmen and women to represent us in competition, in spite of our  over 200 million population. The ministers shamelessly accept such developments because what counts, in their view, are the laurels won. Needless to ask if they reflect on how these athletes were discovered, nurtured and exposed to competitions, before we come for them flying the kite of patriotism towards their fatherland.

Most of our ministers have brought us shame, with stories of Nigerian sports contingents sometimes being walked over in competitions due to lack of funds; other times, due to denial of visas. Even the few sports federations which attend competitions do so due to patronage from sports-friendly governors, who incidentally are governors where the federations’ chairmen come from.

Is it that government doesn’t provide funds for such events, especially where we are defending champions? After all, when we excel, ministers easily ascribe the feats to the government, rushing to the Villa to present the victorious squads to the President. The governors who hosted the events or bankrolled the trips hardly get mentioned. A few brave federation chairmen mention the governors and other sponsors, if they are allowed to speak.

Several federations are divided, with some having two leaders. Those who supervised the worn-out elections claim they brought change. Indeed.

Most people can’t understand the reluctance of the past minister to take the IAAF matter to EFCC or ICPC for an incident as glaring as refusing to return $135,000 to the international body. The body mistakenly paid $150,000 into AFN’s accounts instead of $15,000. When the body discovered, it wrote the ministry and AFN. They acknowledged receiving such an amount, yet it hasn’t been refunded. Two years on, Nigeria hasn’t returned the $135,000 to IAAF. If this isn’t corruption, what is it?

Many are looking forward to reforms that will bolster many facets of the economy, sports inclusive. The sporting industry is a goldmine in countries where it is properly administered. In fact, some of these countries’ GDPs are bolstered by the inputs from the sportsmen and women. The volume of business from sports towers above what some of them earn. Spain’s economy relies heavily on revenues from the activities of, among many others, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia.

At the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, Nigeria was a pariah nation – no thanks to the brutal reign of the late General Sani Abacha. But the world stood still in amazement when Chioma Ajunwa outjumped favourite Fiona May to win the gold medal. After the feat, Ajunwa looked around and couldn’t see Nigerian officials with the country’s flag. She spotted a young American girl who was waving a Nigerian flag. Ajunwa quickly ran to her to collect the flag and proceeded on her lap of honour. The world media made a feast of that momentous moment.

Everything stopped in Georgia when Nigeria’s soccer side overpowered the Brazilians in a historic 4-3 semi-final victory. Dream Team 1 went on to win the gold medal by beating Argentina 3-2 in the final game. The talk in the world at that time was that Nigeria was using sports to change the global perception about us. Something good coming out of Nigeria, beyond the bestial acts of the late Abacha’s regime.

Nigeria lost the opportunities to leverage on Dream Team 1’s feats, for instance, when the then sports minister refused to allow the team play against Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina etc who wanted a revenge. The minister’s myopic statement that he didn’t want any country to beat the dream team destroyed all avenues of seeking more cash for the football federation.

Countries with thinking administrators exploit marketing windows to promote their nations through sports. Some of these countries bid to host big sporting events to help revamp their economy. Such bids compel the government to reinvent their cities to be in sync with what operates elsewhere. Until the 1994 World Cup in the USA, soccer was a novelty game which most people couldn’t differentiate from the traditional America football, which was more popular.

Said Wikipedia: ‘’In 1988, in exchange for FIFA awarding the right to host the 1994 World Cup, U.S. Soccer promised to establish a Division 1 professional soccer league. In 1993, the USSF selected Major League Professional Soccer (the precursor to MLS) as the exclusive Division 1 professional soccer league. Major League Soccer was officially formed in February 1995 as a limited liability company. MLS had originally planned to begin play in 1995 with 12 teams. However, MLS announced in November 1994 that it would delay its launch until 1996 and began with ten teams: Columbus Crew, D.C. United, New England Revolution, NY/NJ MetroStars, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Colorado Rapids, Dallas Burn, Kansas City Wiz, Los Angeles Galaxy, and San Jose Clash.

‘’The league had generated some buzz by managing to lure some marquee players from the 1994 World Cup to play in MLS—including U.S. stars such as Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola and Eric Wynalda, and foreign players such as Mexico’s Jorge Campos and Colombia’s Carlos Valderrama. Before its maiden season and inaugural draft, MLS allocated four marquee players across the initial ten teams.’’

The American government used the 1994 World Cup to rebrand soccer, having already lured retiring soccer stars to their country in the build-up to hosting the USA’94 World Cup. On Monday, America beat Nigeria 2-0 in one of the Poland 2019 U-20 World Cup, which would have been considered a taboo in the past. One of the benefits of hosting the Mundial. Revenue from the 1994 Mundial grew the American economy. The government didn’t stop at hosting the football event, it also hosted the biggest multi-sports event, the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. The Americans hosted the Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles. Need I restate the revenue generated from basketball, athletics, lawn tennis, golf etc to America’s GDP?

It is part of the government’s obligations to its citizenry to build sporting infrastructures and create the enabling environment for the industry to thrive. Besides, sports can be used to engage the youth, taking them off crime. The masses can do sporting activities to improve their health. Of course, international bodies won’t favour countries not renowned for particular sports to host anything. For these international sports bodies, hosting their tournaments is another way of spreading the game to such countries. It helps such nations to upgrade the facilities that they have to be in sync with what operates globally.

The World Cup reinvented Russia but the beauty of the two halves of the cities was that money was properly utilised so much so that it won’t come as a surprise if the older structures are not modernised after the Mundial, given the contrasting outlooks of the two halves. In Russia, high-rise buildings are in vogue and symbolise the housing estates for the people. The buildings are structured in such a way that the over 140 million people are accommodated.

Hosting the 2018 World Cup was a commercial success for Russia, the government and its citizenry as they milked the benefits of a huge influx of people into the country for over 38 days. The average income per capital per head of a Russian must have risen. The citizens’ purchasing power would be increased. The volume of cash and investment which came with hosting the Mundial for the Russian government is unquantifiable. Indeed, all the cities in Russia has become construction sites with massive modernisation of the infrastructures to the benefit of the people.

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