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Dare has set realistic template for change, says Akanji

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Change doesn’t come easy, especially for people used to seeing things from a “nothing good will ever come out of it” perspective. In recent times, Nigerian sports followers have been pushed by the fault lines drawn by their administrators to accept that only a miracle could salvage the sector.

When Muhammadu Buhari began his second tenure as President of Nigeria, he promised to change the areas he felt the country had not moved forward as much as he wanted. One such area was sports, which was enmeshed in many crises and scandals, such that stakeholders spent more time on issues that negated sports growth than they did on proferring solutions to the myriad of problems holding the sector down.

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Then in came Sunday Dare, as the Minister of Youth and Sports Development. On assumption of office, many stakeholders uncharacteristically gave him the benefit of the doubt due, mainly to his reputation as a meticulous scholar, who was not given to frivolities and reckless adventure. And some say he has not been found wanting.

The minister has been credited with changing the dynamics of a ministry so often perceived as not only poorly funded, but also problematic.

One of the first signs that Dare was determined to be different from some others before him, according to some stakeholders, was the assemblage of some of the best brains in the sector in a mission aimed at restoring the confidence of the private sector, which he courted for a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to revive the sports sector.

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Speaking on Dare’s record in his first one year in office, John Joshua-Akanji, who is the special adviser (Media) to the minister, said one of the gains of the PPP alliance is the Adopt Campaign aimed at “restoring infrastructure to their best state while ensuring that the country’s youths enjoy the economic benefits derivable in sports.”

According to Akanji; “The initiative is also aimed at ensuring podium performance by Nigerian athletes at international competitions and to actualise this dream, individuals, corporate bodies and state governments have been encouraged to adopt athletes and provide them with direct funding for the Olympic Games and other international competitions.

On infrastructure development, he said Dare’s Adopt-a-Pitch initiative “has led to the near completion of the Daura Township Stadium. Work has also commenced on the football pitch of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, through the support of Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna will be wearing a new look courtesy of the intervention of the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai.

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“A task force has begun work at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, in a bid to return the stadium to its original master-plan ahead of the concessioning process. In addition, the minister has secured assurances from a philanthropist, who is to rehabilitate some facilities at the stadium. The Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan is set for a facelift as well.”

The media adviser believes Dare’s greatest impact is in his bid to reposition sports from mere recreation to business. “This would open limitless opportunities in a public-private partnership, infrastructural development, merchandising, sponsorship, television rights, marketing, branding, content and ultimately better welfare for the athletes.”

He said the minister from the onset made athlete’s welfare his priority, adding, “during the COVID-19 lockdown, he distributed palliatives to athletes and youths, assisted the mothers of late players like Rashidi Yekini, Samuel Okwaraji, Ali Jeje, and quarter-miler, Sunday Bada.

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“He had earlier paid for the surgery of female basketball player, Nkem Akaraiwe, and picked part of the hospital bill of former Green Eagles player, Kadiri Ikhana.

“He also extended the same gesture to ailing former Super Eagles defender, Sunday Eboigbe, and boxer Jerry Okorodudu. He recently paid for the mouth surgery of table tennis legend, Funke Oshonaike, just as he has supported youngsters like boxing sensations, Sekinat and Sultan Adekoya, under the Adopt-an-Athlete initiative.”

On grassroots development, Akanji said the resuscitation of the Principal’s Cup, Headmasters Cup football competitions, and the introduction of the Unity Cup will aid the country in discovering fresh talents.

He added: “The otherwise forgotten long-distance races in Pankshin and Mambila Plateau are set for revival and with it, there is hope for a resurgence in Nigeria’s performance in this event.

“The revival of the moribund Hall of Fame will not only create an enduring legacy but inspire the younger generation to emulate past sporting heroes. The establishment of the Outdoor Hall of Fame is not only symbolic, but an enduring legacy to immortalise Nigeria’s sporting legends. The berthing of the sports industry policy would bring fundamental changes to the development of the sport in Nigeria with its attendant impact on the national economy.”

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