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‘You can’t claim autonomy when you depend solely on government for sponsorships’

By Gowon Akpodonor
15 February 2020   |   3:01 am
United Kingdom-based former hurdler and a member of Team Nigeria to Atlanta ’96 Olympics, Moses Orode Oyiki has told the country’s sports administrators to always have a clear purpose on why they aspire to become presidents

Ex-Olympian, Moses Oyiki Tells Nigerian Sports Administrators

United Kingdom-based former hurdler and a member of Team Nigeria to Atlanta ’96 Olympics, Moses Orode Oyiki has told the country’s sports administrators to always have a clear purpose on why they aspire to become presidents or board members of a sporting federation.

Since last year, some Nigerian sports federations, including the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), have been engulfed in crises.

In particular, the crisis in the AFN got to a climax when its president, Ibrahim Gusau decided to severe his relationship with the Federal Government and declared autonomy at a Congress he organised in Akwa, Anambra State.

That was after months of a faceoff with the majority of the board members, who accused him of ‘squandering’ sponsorship money he allegedly collected from the supervising sports ministry for Team Nigeria to attend various competitions, including the Asaba 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship and the African Junior/Youths Championship in Abidjan.

Oyiki, a lawyer, said claiming autonomy midway in office as AFN president was like extending the goalpost in the middle of a football match.

“He who pays the piper dictates the tune,” Oyiki said during the week. “The call for autonomy has to be done according to the guidelines. You cannot claim autonomy, for instance, when you cannot take full responsibility for the organisation of your sport. This has to do with how you organise your competitions and how you are elected.

“In our case, for instance, you cannot morph into an autonomous body from being a body, which came into existence from a government midwife birth. You have to dissolve your body and set rules or guidelines to begin a brand new autonomous body. It is a constitutional right to associate and dissociate. It is therefore within your rights to form an autonomous body for the purpose of promoting and running a sporting organization, according to the tenets of the world governing body,” he said. 

At the Atlanta ’96 Olympics, Oyiki, a product of the University of Benin, represented Nigeria in the 110 metres hurdles, where he finished sixth in the second heat with a time of 14.04 seconds.

He said: “Boards of the different sports associations have succeeded or failed depending on how they are regarded in the books of the Minister for Sports of the day. This has led unfortunately to less ambition, less creativity, and complete dependence on the government. However, the world governing bodies concerned about government intervention and interference with national sportss associations or federations decided to ban countries whose governments breach such regulations. There is a contradiction in this decision.

“Most of the countries where government interfere are Third World and developing countries, where private corporate sponsorship is zero or negligible. The world governing bodies try to assist developing countries by giving them grants and technical assistance. Some dishonest federations, however, divert these funds into their private coffers,” he stated. 

Oyiki, who hails from Ughelli in Delta State, stated that to ensure the government did not interfere, sports administrators must get corporate sponsorship for their activities. “You cannot obtain sponsorship for your events from the government and you expect to operate independently.

“This government intervention comes with corruption from the minister down to the board members. There is also red-tapism, which affects preparations for international events, as training grants for elite athletes are delayed or not even paid. Transport fares, including international flight tickets for invited athletes, are not refunded or experience delays in payments or refunds, or not paid or refunded at all.”

Oyiki was a late starter in the 110meters hurdles. His journey into the world of athletics began when lecturers at the University of Benin embarked on strike action while he was studying law. That gave Oyiki the concentration he needed to focus on his preparations for the Atlanta ’96 Olympics.

He advised those running Athletics in Nigeria to sit down and have what he called ‘an honest meeting’ with the athletes.

“We must tell ourselves the bitter truths. Athletics is an individual sport. You are responsible for your training, competitions, and progression until such a time when your responsibility is taken up by others interested in your career because of your success. This is why many promising and top athletes were recruited, and are being recruited into various military and paramilitary organisations, including the Nigeria Police Force.

“We are so used to government sponsorship and being pampered that we resist any attempt to take responsibility individually for our sporting careers.

“Since leaving Nigeria, I have come to realise that athletes pay for everything if they want to take athletics as a career. No facility is free. I understand now why our foreign based athletes, who were out of school, insisted on grants if they were to compete for Nigeria. They pay for the use of facilities, coaches, physiotherapists, transportation, feeding, accommodation etc. This is why most developed countries classify athletes to pay grants to. It is not extended to all comers. Once you fall below the threshold, you lose your grant. It is, therefore, performance based. The grants are also paid promptly and when they are needed most, the offseason.”