With sponsors, we would have harvested medals in Budapest, says Daniel Igali
Following the recent not-too-impressive feat of the country’s team at the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, Hungary, the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF) president, Daniel Igali, has attributed the dismal outing to paucity of funds, which never allowed the athletes to have enough competitions to be able to compete well at major championships. In this session with SAMUEL IFETOYE, Igali spoke on things that should be done by the sports ministry and the need for corporate bodies to assist in getting the best out of the current crop of talents who have in recent times excelled more than any other sport in the country at the world level. Excerpts:
What cause our flop in Budapest?
In my view, all the athletes performed incredibly well. They wrestled very well. It is just that the result did not go our way. Sometimes you will give your best and not get the result that you expect.
Going to the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, especially on the backdrop of the 2017 exploit, where we came back with a sliver medal won Odunayo Adekuoroye and almost got another medal in the third place match where wrestled for bronze, if you juxtapose that with our performance this year, it looks like a regression. But if you were there and saw the matches and how we lost, you will know that we were quite unlucky.
Having said that, let me also tell you that our preparation this year was even much better than last year’s because we had a camp for about three weeks, I think; and this year we had a camp for five weeks in Bayelsa.
So, in terms of the feeding, in terms of the environment and their mindset going into the championship, I thought we were in a very good frame of mind; it’s just that the results didn’t go our way.
Russia is a super power when it comes to wrestling, virtually in every style, now they are even in female wrestling.
Last year, the male freestyle wrestlers that normally, on the average, win three to four gold medals at every world championship, did not even win one gold medal.
And Russia has a budget of more than $10 million every year for wrestling. That should tell us that sometimes results don’t go as well.
Look at Canada, for instance, at the world championship last year with all the eight weight classes, we only went there with four, and we got a position that was higher than that of Canada.
But this year, they went with all the weight classes and won a gold, a sliver and two bronze medals.
This was the same Canada that we beat at the Commonwealth Games.
In the six weight classes at the Commonwealth Games, we won three gold medals and they were there with their full team like the same team that came to this world championship.
So, sometimes, the luck of the draws, the officiating, and everything play out for you to get the kind of results you get.
But coming directly to your question; going from here, I think we just need to continue good preparations for our athletes to compete regularly.
I have always said that we have a crop of athletes who, with adequate preparations on a good day, should be able to do well at the world stage. We have competitions in January, February and March.
If we are able to source for funds according to plans, we want to make sure that we have a minimum of two tournaments before the start of the African championships in April in Tunisia next year.
Next year is very crucial, extremely crucial in terms of our preparations for the Olympics.
The first qualification tournament for the Olympics will be at the world championships where all the top six athletes will automatically qualify for the Olympics.
And our goal is to qualify a couple of athletes at the world championship level for the Olympics before going to the African and Oceania qualifiers for the 2022 Olympics.
How much support does the sports ministry render?
The sport ministry is not a proactive place, but a retroactive place. I don’t know if it is because we don’t send our proposal to them ahead of time.
Normally, I send my proposal three months ahead of each tournament. But we don’t get funds before we go out for championships.
Before the championship in Budapest, I requested funds for the tournament up to three to four months before the commencement.
As at the time we left, we didn’t get any response. We had planned to go with six to eight athletes, as well as a medical doctor, two coaches, and all that.
As at the time we left, I didn’t know if the proposal was approved or not. But we ended up sourcing for funds ourselves in respect of where they will stay and train and their ticket flights.
Luckily, a couple of them like Odunayo Adekuoroye, Blessing Oborududu and Aminat Adeniyi had the Olympics solidarity basic scholarships, and so were able to buy ticket by themselves. And we had to look for money to buy tickets for the coach, Blessing Onyebushi and myself.
We had to also source for more funds to supplement our trip to Budapest.
If we have to challenge for medals at the 2020 Olympics and even at the world championships next year, we cannot completely rely on the ministry to give us funds for our preparations.
How much help has the federation got from corporate bodies?
We have made tremendous efforts to reach out to several of them to assist us.
We have sent several proposals, appealing to them for funds, so that our athletes can have enough competitions while preparing for major championships. We still want to appeal to them to come to our aid.
On our part, I think we need to gear up efforts and that is why we are probably going to engage more agents to assist us.
A couple of years ago, we hired an agent to act on our behalf to do some of this fund raising for us.
Unfortunately, they never got anything. We are going to double our efforts this time around for us to get something positive, and that is why we are probably going to engage more agents to start looking at things in a more professional way.
We know that this is the time most of these companies will be preparing their budgets for next year and we need to start now.
I also think we need to engage in face-to-face conversation with them and hopefully the result will be positive this time around.
As former world and Olympics champions, what is holding our wrestlers back from fulfilling their potentials?
What I think that is critical now is for these athletes to be properly taken care of. The number one thing is where they stay; that is, the environment is critical.
If you go and train in the morning, say for two hours, get back home and your environment is not good enough, where you sleep is not good enough, maybe it is noisy, and when you don’t recover well, you will never improve.
For our top performance, you need to look at a special way of taking care of these wrestlers, especially the expediency that they need to be moved away from where they are staying currently to a more suitable place.
This is something that we need to discuss with the Federal Government that some of these top athletes need to be placed on allowances of not less than N300,000 monthly.
That is what we need to look at, because that way our athletes will be able to take care of themselves properly.
Second, all the federations that are under the International Olympic Committee (IOC) usually have a budget.
This is what top countries like Canada, Germany, United States and Korea do in planning ahead of time to have a successful competition at major championships.
Before the last competition, I had a discussion with the authorities on how much should be our budget.
For instance, do you know how much India budgets for competitions every year? India has a budget of over $300,000, Korea $2.5 million for their programme and the Tunisian female national team alone has $2.3 million a year. But the truth is that there is no budget for sports in this country except football.
We’ve not been able to raise a dime, and the federation doesn’t have one naira as budget.
However, budget planning is critical to the success of the junior athletes because they need to be exposed to a minimum of three to four international tournaments in a year, and locally it should be about three to four tournaments a year.
The senior team too needs to have regular camping, and if I have the funds, my senior team should be having bi-weekly camping every two to three months.
We should not only be going for camping whenever we want to go for competitions as we do here. The camping should not only be limited within the country.
If we are able to do this, I tell you, there is no world championship or tournament that our wrestlers won’t be able to win laurels in.
Here, you don’t have a budget, and when you have a tournament, you write to the sports ministry for funds.
Then when money does not come, you wait till the end to see if you will be able to take one or two athletes to a competition, and when you eventually attend, it is usually without medical personnel.
At the last competition, I was the one that massaged some of our athletes and also begged the Canadian and United States’ teams to get the relief we needed.
Wrestling is an energy-sapping sport that one’s recovery is very critical. It does not matter how well you train or how good your camp.
We lack good videographer that will follow us to any competition to firm our matches, to enable us analyse our matches to know and improve on mistakes. But because we don’t have the funds, this is telling on our performance.
Other countries have access to watch all their matches where the athletes have the opportunity to watch their video to know where they performed well and where they need to improve on, showing the clips by breaking them down in slow motions step by step.
But in our own case, we wait until the United World Wresting produces the videos online before we go there to download and watch for ourselves the mistakes made by the athletes and that would have been some days after.
Every country that wants to take part in any championship should have a budget.
Any federation that has the ambition to make an impact at any championship needs to plan ahead to know what to do to achieve such a target.
I will suggest that every federation should be given a target by the Federal Government and should not be starved of funds in achieving the set goal.
Funding should be based on how well you perform in the next two years.
What does sponsors stand to gain in wrestling?
That is one of the key things because most times when we talk about sponsorships, we don’t look at what the sponsors stand to benefit.
There are different brand of sponsorships. There are different types of sponsorship and these could be bronze, sliver and gold.
So, the top sponsor on the full chain will probably get bigger in terms of what you wear, like the singlets the wrestlers wear to compete at the championships.
In Budapest, I saw the Indian wrestlers wearing a Clapa Motors imprint on their jersey as their main sponsor.
That is probably the biggest advantage a major sponsor can have, especially when you sponsor a team like that.
It is more about people understanding that you care; it is about people associating you with success.
For the Nigerian wrestlers, no sport over the last six to eight years has performed better than the wrestling team internationally, continentally and even at the Commonwealth level.
In the past five to six years, wrestling is the only sport that has won medals at world championships.
Wrestling is the only able-bodied sport, I am not talking about the paralympians, that won a bronze at the 2015 and silver at the 2017 world championships.
And if you even look at the Commonwealth Games, looking at the number of athletes we took to the competition, and the result we got, no team has done better than wrestling since 2010.
If you sponsor wrestling, you are associating with strength, you are associating with friends, exclusiveness, smartness, and above all you are associating with success.