Nigerian sports in dire need of change, says Goke Adelabu
Former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu, was barely a year old when Nigeria gained Independence in 1960. But from his primary and post elementary school days till date, Adelabu looks up to October 1 every year with so much excitement, hoping to see new things, especially in sports.
It is yet another Independence anniversary and Adelabu feels the nation’s sport is in retrogression.“An essential ingredient in the measurement of a nation’s development is the ability to get every process evaluated objectively to ensure relevance in terms of content and delivery system, and this is a major clog in the wheels of our sport development,” Adelabu told The Guardian last week in Lagos.
In his playing days, Adelabu was one of those who made the then Green Eagles a delight to watch. With his pace, skillful runs and dribbles, he was able to overshadow England-based John Chiedozie in the battle for jerseys during the qualifiers for Espana ’82 World Cup.
Before then, Adelabu had played alongside the late Stephen Keshi and others like Henry Nwosu, Humphrey Edobor and Kennedy Boardman in the Flying Eagles team that lost to Cameroun in the qualifier for the 1981 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Now a sport scientist, Adelabu, who featured for the then IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan during his club career, is of the view that government has not recognised the economic potential in sport.
“In as much as I would like to commend the effort of the government in funding sport for the sake of meeting her social responsibility, she has made room for the ‘criminals and political touts’ to dominate the administration of sport in the country. This is a clear indication of the inability of the government to recognise the economic potential in sport and most importantly, the economic significance of developing the citizens to trade with their potential,” Adelabu stated.
The former manager of Eko United FC further said: “A child’s freedom lies in his potential. Once a child discovers his or her potential, he or she is free to become whatever he wants to be in life. This is the greatest tragedy that we have suffered from the lackadaisical attitude of the government to sport. I saw a 16-year-old young girl in the last Olympics; for God’s sake, where are the young ones in our nation? We did not even have athletes to participate in so many sports. Our God has given us everything in terms of population, human and material resources; what else do we want?”
He stated that many Nigerian sport administrators cannot even handle their own lives talk less of managing the lives of the athletes. “That is why they do not see anything wrong in embezzling allowances meant for the athletes. Many people who are not successful in their professions are the ones who have found their ways into sport administration to look for money. Check the background of the individuals in our sport administration.”
Adelabu categorized the many problems facing Nigerian sports as follows:
Participation versus Development
“Over the years, there has been increased participation in sporting competitions without any speck of development. That is why we have poor results. I have said it several times that we cannot substitute participation for development. Even looking at the number of our football players outside the country, it has no significant effect on the performances of our national teams. Development has to do with objectively initiating a process to address some particular issues in sport development with the resultant benefit to the citizens. The result we are getting is a mockery of the gift of God in the lives of our sport men and women,” Adelabu stated.
Pending cases on mismanagement
“We saw what America did to FIFA to break the stronghold of Sepp Blatter and others. I have said it several times that Nigeria is not a state under Zurich or a department in FIFA. We have the right to investigate any federation. We have to investigate COJA and other cases pending as deterrent to others with criminal tendencies coming to administer our sport in any capacity. I know that this government will get to the root of the pending investigations. Majority of the people who were indicted in one way or another are still occupying offices across the country.
Federal character and sport portfolio?
“We have gotten to a point in our national emancipation to change the way we do things. I have no problem with the issue of Federal Character, but with the character of the Federal Government to the issue. It is not about where people come from, but where are they taking us to. The government should have a special agency in the country that can track down intelligent Nigerians in all disciplines that can intelligently pull every human and material resource together to reflect the capacity of this nation to participate at any level globally, and not just people who will be speaking for the nation as if he is in a village.
“A majority of those who are capable of doing this job in this category are not in politics. The government must know what she has. We do not need a governor or minister to be qualified to serve this nation. Our educational background and experience are enough.”
Welfare of sport men and women
To Adelabu, the way Nigerian governments have been treating athletes over the years is ‘very criminal.’ “Sport should be a special branch of our national economy that can fund itself if special attention is paid to the goose that will lay the golden eggs. Over the years, we have seen how coaches, players and other athletes’ lives were mismanaged with the government folding her hands as if sportsmen and women are dispensable items.
“It was reported that there was no government representation at Stephen Keshi’s funeral. How would there be when the process of his death was initiated by those, who sacked him unceremoniously. They still have a case to answer. The government is yet to investigate the motive behind the monetary gift to our players at the last Rio Olympic Games in front of the whole world. Will America or Britain collect such money or put their athletes in such a position that they looked like beggars? The fact that our officials demonstrated such a global display of ignorance does not mean we Nigerians are bunch of ignorant people. We need to deal with the welfare of our athletes.”
We do not have to participate if there is no fund?
“The Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, alleged that a certain cabal spent several billions of fund meant for the training of athletes before the Olympics and I am surprised that he has not recommended anyone for investigation. He has to confront this cabal to justify why he is the minister under this administration. Who is going to be held responsible for our dismal performances at the Rio Olympics? Some people must be ejected from office because they have outlived their importance. The spirit of change should be in operation in all the facets of our government.
“A lot of athletes, even coaches, have not been receiving salaries, and this is very disheartening. In as much as there are solutions to all these issues, the crux of the matter is that our administrators are behaving as if it is a normal thing not to pay for services rendered. No. It is abnormal. Sport has its own economic values if handled by the right people. Players in various leagues all over the world are paid salaries from the time you spend watching them, their jerseys you wear and betting.
“Some time ago, I went to a bank to encourage the Managing Director to sponsor a certain sport. One of his staff later confided in me that the MD preferred to advertise his bank on animal channels because his family watches it. Can you imagine!
According to Adelabu, it is good news that a lot of people are now involved in organising competitions and partnering with various groups across the globe to boost sport development. But the government should be responsible for monitoring the objectives and relevance of such partnerships to the aspirations of the government for her citizens. Today, about 90 per cent of our schools have no functional training facilities. I attended a school sports competition that holds once in two years, and I cried when I left the place. You can imagine how many potential champions will go undiscovered.
“This is to remind the government that sports should not be treated as a fund wasting project based on the antecedents of our administrators. The government should see it as a way of helping her citizens to become aware of the economic relevance of their potentials in nation building.
“Considering the historical sequence of events, the way sports is viewed years ago cannot be compared to today. Even though there were limited opportunities then, we saw it as a matter of holding up the national integrity. Then, our government had responsible people administering sport.
Take for instance, former NFA Secretary General, late Patrick Okpomo and others, who saw their positions as platforms to serve rather than seek for how to make money. The officials then were approachable and they demonstrated profound interest in our success, rather than having personality problem with us.
“I cannot recount how many times the NFA secretariat wrote to the university authority special letters to seek for my release for the Flying Eagles and the then Green Eagles and our allowances were paid regularly. In the past, players and athletes were selected on the bases of their performances and it was a thing of pride to play for Nigeria,” Adelabu added.