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Senegal’s huge ambitions expose Nigeria’s unpreparedness


[FILE PHOTO] Senegal President Macky Sall

As one drives on the highway from Dakar into Diamniadio, the new capital city of Senegal that is under construction, is a shiny new glass building on the left with the big sign “Dakar Arena”.

This ultra-modern 20,000 capacity indoor sports centre is one spotlight that shows the importance of sports to Senegal.

As I attended the Dakar International Forum for Security and Peace in Africa two weeks ago, it was certain that Senegal has huge ambitions for sport and it was not long into his opening speech that President Macky Sall talked about the importance of security in the region as they prepare to host the Youth Olympic Games in 2022.

With hundreds of attendees gathered to x-ray the security situation in Africa, I could not help note that the Senegal that I visited in 2010 was highly different from the one I saw recently.

While one landed at the Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport eight years ago, this time around it was the new Aeroport International de Blaise Diagne (AIBD). And if one spends another decade before returning to Senegal, the new capital city Diamniadio would have become a veritable habitation.

For Senegal has decided that Dakar has little ability to expand its already tight infrastructure. Hence, the decision to build from scratch a new city that will be capable of handling the ambitions that the country has set for itself as part of its “Emerging Senegal” vision.

Earlier this year, Senegal’s bid defeated that of Nigeria and others to win the first Olympic event on the African continent, the 2022 YOG. “They have offered a project based on a strong vision for youth and sport. There are many opportunities, and we will endeavour to deliver together, as part of a strong partnership, visionary, responsible and inspiring Youth Games,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

While the Nigerian Olympic Committee and sports industry heads might have been wondering why Senegal, my trip a fortnight ago showed me why not Senegal? The aggressive investment in new infrastructure and the fact it is a more secure country contributed immensely in winning the bid.

That the Senegalese government conspicuously supported the bid beyond what one has learned about the lackadaisical attitude of the Nigerian government makes them rightly deserving.

Senegal will host the final leg of qualifying for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup at the Dakar Arena in February. It will be the first major tournament to be held inside the sparkling new indoor facility.

It will be a perfect opportunity for Senegal to pick the outstanding ticket after Nigeria confirmed her place in August. They also have ambitions of bringing the NBA Africa Game from Johannesburg, South Africa, for the first time.

While Nigerian basketball administration is struggling, Senegal is making headway. That Amadou Fall, the NBA’s VP for Africa, hails from Senegal, makes the possibility of the NBA Africa Game being staged in Dakar even more plausible.

An Olympic stadium is also planned for the new capital city, Diamniadio. This will be the venue for the 2022 Youth Olympic Games.

Perhaps the fact that Senegal is a country at peace with itself ensures the forward-thinking nature of its leadership.

At the Dakar Forum, a Nigerien minister lamented that the war against extremism and terrorism was taking a toll on their national budget with funds being taken away from important sectors like health to fund security operations.

Could that also be Nigeria’s excuse in the lack of funding given to sectors like sports or do we have a disinterested leadership that has shown incapability in fashioning out a vision for the industry?

No new facilities have been built by the Federal Government since hosting the All Africa Games in 2003.

The National Stadium in Lagos has been abandoned and if not for the National Sports Festival that will take place in Abuja, that stadium had become grazing land for cattle, sheep and goats.

There has been no attempt to rejuvenate facilities across the country except for a few states that have built new stadia. Nigeria has continued to show utmost disinterest in the sector.

With the 2019 General Elections getting closer, it is important to ask candidates what their plans are for the sports industry.

It is not enough to put on paper a few smooth words, candidates and their representatives must also be brought to outline their vision broadly at important sporting fora.

This will enable potential policymakers to understand the importance of the industry and its impact on the country.

The sports ministry should no longer be an afterthought for political office holders. It should get smart leadership that can provide a way towards achieving greater impact for our country.

Failure to put in perspective what we want to achieve with sports will see us continue to look unprepared for the global community.

It will mean countries like Senegal and others that are investing in infrastructure will continue to make us look like amateurs.

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