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Government cannot hands off sports development … Now!


Solomon-Dalung,Let me assure readers of this column that I shall soon return to the more interesting developments in football in Europe and in the English Premier League.

I have been closely monitoring events from my observatory, trying to make sense of a season that promises a fairy tale ending to an incredible football season of unprecedented drama and unpredictability.

I shall soon join the crowd of humble pie eaters that must now admit how wrong we have all been in our analysis, and how none of us saw any of what is going on now, coming.

Pre-season, who, in their senses, would have picked Leicester City FC as 2016 EPL champions? Who would have foreseen the meltdown of FC Barcelona in the short space of two weeks as the team hurdles to the finish line in the La Liga? Who would have foreseen that Pep Guardiola would leave probably the strongest team in the world and sign with a club that may not even qualify for the next European Club Championships?

Take the case also of Arsenal FC having to face the reality that Arsene Wenger’s best years are finally over and that he should go! And of Manchester United’s romance with Jose Mourinho that must now be causing them sleepless nights realising that ‘the Special one’ may have lost his ‘magic’ touch and may not fit into the Man U football philosophy.

These are very interesting times and issues all begging for my attention and opinion.

With four matches to go in the EPL the coast is not clear yet! So, I am keeping my lenses trained on Europe, even as I am distracted by a small domestic assignment I so much did not want to take that was thrown at me.

The Reform Committee
I don’t like sports committees anymore. I have been a member of too many since I quit active playing and joined the bandwagon of administrators.

I have been put in another committee set up by the new minister of sports to reform sports by coming up with an architecture and strategy to get more of the private sector and less of government in the funding of sports in the country.

I initially resisted being a part of another ‘fruitless’ rigmarole – a lot of work, a beautiful report and far-reaching recommendations that would never see the light of day. But when my friend and chairman of the committee, Godwin Kienka, insisted and finally convinced me to join him in faith that things would be different this time around, I accepted even though I am still struggling to find the spirit of optimism to sustain me.

Two days into the meetings of the committee I am reminded again just how far Nigerian sport has ‘missed the road’.

I belong to a generation that saw and experienced Nigerian sports at the zenith of its best practice and success, and also witnessed and can testify to its plunge to the present abysmal depths.

I can sum it all up this way: Sport has stopped being one of government’s (local, State and federal) areas of priority. Sports have become irritant, a drain on funds and nothing else beyond medals and trophies.

The situation today is that sport is at its lowest ebb in every respect. It has completely lost its relevance in national development. It is now only seen as an activity that unites Nigerians under one emotional umbrella during an international competition.

The reason for this is simple – leadership!

Governments no longer understand why they should still be funding sports. That answer is still not properly articulated and sold to them. So, very conveniently, they ‘dance’, as they are doing now, to the tune of some stakeholders who ignorantly insist that they should hands off sports development and allow the private sector to fill the void.

Following several previous private sector initiates that have failed woefully to deliver on the rhetorical promises, the new minister is willing to give another committee another opportunity to ‘try their luck’ at articulating the template of a private sector model for sports development.

The conversations in the committee have started. But permit me to admit I still find us groping.

A few things are clear to me, however. The first is that there is a lack of proper understanding and appreciation of the power of sports to impact and change society! So expectations have been reduced to the number of medals that can be won at the Olympics or matches that the Super Eagles can win.  It is that bad.

There is no political will, therefore, to pursue the loftier objectives of health, business, politics, diplomacy, urban planning, youth empowerment, job creation, security, national infrastructural development, etc.

So, sport fails to do what it is capable of doing. It gets little appreciation, little attention and, consequently, very little funding.

I am saying this for the umpteenth time, that sport, particularly in the 21st Century, can impact on society and on humanity in ways that no other activity can. In the absence of information to show this, or prove it, it is treated amongst the least in a long list of our governments’ priorities.

No sector has suffered this kind and magnitude of neglect that sport has suffered since 1991. That was the turning point – the point of transition from one director of sports in the ministry to another at that time. That story when fully told is the biggest calamity to befall Nigerian sport.

Sports development is no longer hinged to schools and to education. National sports facilities have become redundant, neglected and empty carcasses. The only national sports institution in the country has lost direction and focus, deviating from being a technical and professional institution to an academic one issuing out worthless certificates.

Governments all over the country no longer see sports development as a statutory responsibility, but are indeed now looking for the private sector to take up even that responsibility.

The reality is that there are roles for all the stakeholders in sport. There are clear roles for parents, roles for local and State governments, roles for the federal government, roles for the different sports associations, the Olympic Committee and other bodies in the course of sports development from grass roots to the elite level.

Sports development is not an isolated activity. It is inextricably linked to the fundamental rights of children to play and to have a minimum education. We must tap into those constitutional provisions and apply them.

The key is that sports development must start and must be anchored to education. Schools must drive it using the manpower and facilities within them to instill a solid foundation in every child.

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