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Open letter to sports constituency

By Segun Odegbami
15 December 2018   |   4:11 am
My dear friends in sports, some months ago, I took a major step that you all are likely to be aware of. I joined the train of Nigerian politics.

Segun Odegbami

My dear friends in sports, some months ago, I took a major step that you all are likely to be aware of. I joined the train of Nigerian politics.

I understand the reaction of most of you in keeping a respectable distance from my unilateral decision by not openly associating with it in anyway, or even expressing an opinion, one way or the other. You all may also already have your political interests and affiliation.

I believe that had I informed you, or sought your opinion on the matter, it is most probable that you would have advised me to avoid the temptation, by all means, and not ventured to enter into the Lion’s den of Nigerian politics.

You would probably have correctly reminded me of our past general understanding of the relation between sports and politics. They never worked well together.

Strategically, those were the sentiments I did not want to hear at all at the time I took my decision.

Nigerian politics are not of the sort that, as a sportsman, an Olympian for that matter, I would ordinarily want to be associated with – the graft, the lies, the corruption, the intimidation, the treachery and betrayals, even killings – conducts and tendencies that do not work well with the values that we espouse in competitive sport – merit, transparency, equity, excellence, healthy competitiveness, fair play, clear rules and regulations, winning and losing graciously, friendship, discipline, honesty, equality, and integrity.

On the value scale, sports and politics are planets apart from each other.

So, for me to have unilaterally plunged into this obvious murky minefield means there must be more to my decision than meets the ordinary eye. Yes, indeed, there is.

The separation of sports from politics in Nigeria has been responsible, in the main, for the stunted growth of an industry that should be thriving with the abundance of natural talents available. Sport has the capacity to make Nigeria a global super power.

Through sports we could have a united Nigerian people better, ‘laundered the image of the country, taken a lot of our young boys and girls off the tracks of illiteracy, joblessness, drugs, prostitution, crime and uncontrolled emigration, and prepared them to pursue happiness through a sector they have passion for, that engage them, create global job opportunities for them, make them healthy, wealthy and wise, empower them, and imbibe in them the best of human values.

What we do now is deny the entire demography of young people entry into the opportunities to be productive on a global scale because of our myopic optic of the power of sport.

Through the decades, sports have continued to show the world glimpses of the ability to break down racial, social and religious barriers, and, through strategic deployment of power and followership, to drive economic, political and cultural goals that can help in transforming Nigeria.

We have said a great deal through the years but have failed to move from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’.

Sports remain a wasting natural resource in Nigeria.
Previous political leaders have lacked the understanding to use it to drive national goals of development beyond winning athletic medals and trophies.

Intermittently between 1960 and 1980, Nigeria was actually on the right trajectory. The Olympics Games of 1980 was an unfortunate tipping point.

Since then, sports have been getting only the short end of the stick of government’s attention. Successive changes in government and in sports administration left the field with a deficit of human capacity and the vision to advance the cause.

Since then, major experienced and knowledgeable stakeholders have never been in position of power to influence, or even implement, their visions and ideas.

Sports, therefore, need the fuel of political power to be able to burn brightly. Sports need political power will to facilitate and implement advancement and development of the sector.

Sport is a driver as well as a major contributor to the national economy, culture, tourism, diplomacy, infrastructural development, youth engagement and empowerment, and so on.

Since I ended my career as an active sports person, I have experienced the roles that sports can play in all the above sectors. In the eternal words of late Nelson Mandela in 1995, sports have the power to change the world.

There is a glaring disconnect between sports and government in taking advantage of what sports offer the country and its army of youths in every cranny, who are passionate about sports but wasting like beautiful flowers in the desert.

We cannot, therefore, stay away from politics and expect that things will change. Nothing will change unless we go in there and effect the change ourselves.

It is as simple as that. That’s my motivation for daring to break away from the norm and enter the lion’s den.

You all know my antecedents in and out of sports.

I have always being the ‘guinea pig’ in my own various ventures in sports, using the results of my work as testimonies of their efficacy, or failure.

Either way, the important thing has always been that I did something rather than prevaricate and play ‘siddon look’.

So, I am venturing again into politics, a new and unfamiliar terrain. I have painfully found out, to my chagrin, that it poses an exciting new kind of challenge that, with the support of my major constituencies (sports and the media), we can, together, surmount, make a difference and possibly change our world.

I assure you that I am not motivated by vaulting ambition for power, neither is it a quest to amass wealth.
My intention is simple – to use sports, a territory I am very familiar with and for which I am eminently qualified, to drive a national development agenda.

I choose to start ‘small’, to emulate our ‘brother’, George Opong Weah of Liberia, and plant a political seed that will germinate quickly to establish in Ogun State the foundation of a new political paradigm in Nigeria.

My mission is that Ogun State will become the take-off point of a revolution using the power of sports and other related fields of entertainment that include culture, music, arts, film, dance, drums, literature, hospitality, theatre, leisure, etc, to initiate and undertake the fastest national development program driven by youths, in our history.

Starting from Ogun State, we can replicate the model and establish a continent-wide renaissance, an unaccomplished dream of Africa’s founding political fathers at Independence from colonial rule around 60 years ago.

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