We want our athletes to build cathedrals, says Adesola
Olusade Adesola currently occupies a unique position in Nigerian sports. In the absence of a sports minister, Adesola, as the permanent secretary in the ministry, is saddled with the responsibility of managing the sector and ensuring the country maintains a respectable position among the comity of nations.
It is a few days to the 2019 African Games billed for Morocco and as chief coordinator of the Nigerian contingent, Adesola has been moving round the camps located across the country to monitor the various teams’ preparations and also galvanise the athletes in their quest for excellence in Morocco.
On Saturday, Adesola was at the National Stadium, Lagos, where he met with the boxing, table tennis and tennis, among other teams to ascertain their level of preparedness and also bring them up to speed on Nigeria’s Morocco 2019 programme. After the meeting with the athletes, Adesola took time out to explain to The Guardian the country’s expectations and quest for excellence in Morocco. He said, “We came to inspire the athletes, encourage them to keep working hard and also assist them to appreciate the task before them.
“We made them to know that nothing that anyone can give them as a reward will be equal to the success they can achieve out there in Morocco. That is why I want them to see their efforts as people building a cathedral and not just breaking stones.“You see, different people go to the quarry for different reasons. Some go there to break stones; others believe they are earning their living, while others will tell you that they are building cathedrals. This is the same job seen in different lights by different people.
“If they look at their participation in the games as earning a living, then it is very ephemeral. The result is little. But when they see it as building a cathedral, they are look at the long-term value of their effort, which is long lasting. “The country has given them the platform to train; it has given them the opportunity to wear the national colours and is also taking them to the competition. So, building the cathedral is largely left for them now.”
Adesola assured the athletes that President Muhammadu Buhari would reward their efforts at the games, adding that provision has been made to ensure they lacked nothing during the competition.He revealed that Nigeria will present 366 athletes, 58 coaches and 114 primary officials at the games, adding, “We going there to showcase our ability. But on the other side of it, when you are participating in sports it is not just for winning, it is also to build lasting friendships. I believe through our participation Nigeria will also be able to achieve some diplomatic mileage, to promote the image of Nigeria in the continent.”
On the inability of some of the teams to go on training camps abroad, Adesola said the ministry provided the atmosphere for the federations to do the right things for their athletes, adding that most of the proactive federations took their athletes to relevant international competitions. He, however said going forward, the ministry would help the disadvantaged federations to expose their athletes to major competitions.
“In 2015 when Barrister Solomon Dalung came in as sports minister, he met a situation where his successors appointed federations’ board members and created a patronage system of governance,” he said. “But when he came in, he said, ‘no, let us change to a committal system of board membership.’ He allowed the board membership to be by elections.
“The athletes and those who are directly involved in the federations democratically elected those to lead them because they know themselves. At the end of the day, many who had been there for years, and only waited for government patronage were shoved aside. “Look at the performance of basketball; for the first time the girls transcended the African championship and went to the world stage and got to the quarterfinals. This is the highest any African country had reached. It could not have been possible if the minister had sat in the office to appoint the board members.
“Many on the boards are really working hard to ensure they perform well internationally. The para-powerlifting team just returned from Kazakhstan; weightlifting also just returned from Kazakhstan; the rugby team is competing in West Africa, while the cricket team for the first time is playing at the U-20 World Cup against big names like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Australia and others. A lot of these efforts to give visibility to these federations rests on the board members.”
Adesola called on stakeholders to always ensure that only those with known ability to deliver are elected into the boards. “The Olympics will soon be here, after which it will soon be another term to elect members of the boards of the federations,” he noted, adding, “My advice to all stakeholders is to elect persons that will represent them well.
“Government alone does not have the resources to sponsor all their activities. But quite a number of the federations are able to attract support and government only compliments their efforts. “I have been engaging with the boxing federation on the need to have that exposure because when you are looking at the ranking of athletes, you don’t see Nigerian boxers because they don’t attend international events.
“If they had not been seeing you at competitions, you cannot just appear at competitions and expect to win. It is not possible. You must be known in the international circle; you must know the politics to succeed.“Shooting is doing great with the little they have. So, we are inviting presidents of the boards to roll up their sleeves and work harder.”
On foreign-based athletes, who have threatened to boycott the games if they were not paid adequate training grants, Adesola said athletes must put the country first before material gains. According to him, “We want to enjoin them to show that they are also ready to give back to the country in their own way. They must arrive before they are paid winning bonus. Everybody that comes will get his entitlements. Of course, may be because of their past experience they no longer trust the ministry, but I must say that all the people that have represented us since we came into office have received their entitlements.”
He also cautioned the athletes to be proud of representing the country, warning that failure to turn up for the African Games would attract severe sanctions.“Governance is a continuum, the principle set before Brazzaville Games that absence from the games means forfeiture of the opportunity to go the Olympics still subsists,” he warned. “Anybody that refuses to go to Morocco will not be considered for the Tokyo Olympics. You cannot dictate to us which games you want to participate in.
“The athletes must be disciplined and obedient. None of the athletes can come out to say he has not benefited from the country. The country provided the platform for them to hone their skills. Before they became big stars, they started from somewhere. If that opportunity had not been given to them, would they be there? “On the part of government, we will do the needful. We are not owing anybody from Gold Coast. We paid winning bonuses in an open system.
“We gave the training grants that we agreed on. But the situation where an athlete insists he must be paid training grant before he competes for the country does not add up. “If I paid you the training grant and you don’t come, what happens to the money?” He said it was regrettable that some athletes have formed the habit of shunning trials because they feel they have outgrown such things, adding, however, that it is a disservice to the country.
“At the 19th National Sports Festival, some local athletes beat foreign-based stars, who felt they were untouchables,” he noted. “Now, when they are coming back again, they will know they are coming for something very serious.“Rosemary Chukwu won gold at the Youth Olympics in Argentina, but at the festival she came fifth. The upcoming athletes want to unseat them. We are enjoining them to see the country first before other considerations.”
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