MANY THINGS ON MY MIND THIS WEEK...
Posted: May 21, 2011
I was in Abuja at the head of a delegation of members of the Nigeria Academicals Sports Committee, NASCOM, to submit the Master plan for the revival of sports competitions amongst secondary school students in Nigeria. This is an initiative of the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to restore the tradition of Academicals in the country. In 1960, the Nigeria Academicals Football championship (later called the Manuwa /Adebajo Cup) was introduced and for over two decades it promoted inter-secondary school, inter-regional, and inter-state competitions that threw up a large number of talented football players, many of who eventually played for the country's various national teams. At that time the tradition was restricted to football only even though other sports also had their own various regional and national competitions that were not called Academicals. The vision now is that the football academicals be restored, as well as 10 other sports, to start with, as a deliberate national programme to stimulate the return of sports to all schools, high level of competition amongst the best talents, and a feeder to higher institutions and the country's national teams. In short, the issue of grassroots sports development is being addressed through the schools system!
It is a huge challenge particularly with the degradation in facilities, infrastructure, funding and even the training of sports teachers in schools. Higher institutions have also not helped matters by not making sports education and practice a major plank of their intra- and extra-curricular activities. I was reading through an athletics publication the other day, a meets programme in the United Arab Emirate. There was a section in the publication that listed current and past world records set by individuals and teams in various athletics events. In some events, particularly the sprints and relays, I observed that many of the records set through the years and some of the best ten records in history were accomplished by university athletes and institutions in America. The foremost sports country in the world depends almost entirely on its collegiate system to produce its best in all spheres including sport. In Nigeria, we had such practice up till the early 1980s.
Since then what we have had has been a litany of woeful experiences; stories of students being victimised for daring to devote any time to sport when there is the more 'important'
issue of their studies. This mentality pervades most tertiary institutions, a total lack of appreciation of the value of sport to health, wealth, education, social interaction and even image building. Most tertiary institutions either victimise their athletes or just simply neglect them. Only one or two have demonstrated some degree of commitment to advancing sports as a serious social tool within their campuses. Time was when sportsmen and women were given concessions in admission, and preferential treatment in hostel allocation and scholarships for those that excel.
Turning things around would require a revolution - an uncommon sagacity, the political will and commitment of governments and all the agencies that have to do with education, women, youths and sports! Establishing such a synergy without any or all of these elements is the main challenge. Fortunately, that is the verve that I see in the President Jonathan's vision and recent actions in youth matters. You cannot address the issue of education and of youths without considering the role sport can play in tackling the problems associated with them. We must start to see sport and its impact on society beyond recreation and physical activity. We must appreciate sport for its capacity to provide platforms for enrolment in school (to meet the Millennium Development Goal project target of 2015), retaining students in school, giving students the opportunity for higher education and learning, and shepherding them into various careers that abound in the general entertainment business that includes tourism, hospitality, social inclusion, the arts, job creation, and related business activities. The more I think about it the more I realise how much we are wasting the opportunities that sport and the arts in particular provide. Yet, these two areas are like Siamese twins that are least appreciated by successive governments, even though between them they can absorb the huge population of our youths that are at the bottleneck zone of our youth empowerment - that space between completing secondary school and the life after that.
There must be a new orientation to a complete education for our youths, plus a marriage of thoughts, purposes and programmes between the various agencies dealing with their affairs.
The NASCOM master plan was handed over to the Minister of Sport, Professor Taoheed Adedoja, at a low level event at the Federal Secretariat, Abuja. The quiet around the secretariat was a direct product of the preparation by Ministers to handover the affairs of their ministry to their Directors-General with the imminent dissolution of the Federal Executive Council. For several ministers the romance with the present government will be over. There will be a few lucky ones though, and the feeling around the sports ministry is that Professor Adedoja will be recalled based on his credible performance in the very few months that he has been in office!
AROUND NIGERIAN FOOTBALL IN THREE PARAGRAPHS:
WAFU CUP: DARK CLOUDS LOOM...
The home-based Eagles failed to retain their championship of the WAFU Cup by losing to Togo in the finals of the 2011 championship last weekend. In the match the Eagles failed to impress and did not look anything like 'Super'. The WAFU competition itself suffered hitches including some internal political wrangling that has cast a pall over the organisation even now. Three countries pulled out of the competition at the last minute for reasons not made clear. A vexed interim WAFU board has angrily taken a decision to move the next edition to Ghana. At the same time CAF has stepped in with decisions that many now complain are plain interference in the internal affairs of a regional body. CAF, led by an ailing President Issa Hayatou, appears to have refused to recognise the interim board and has thrown its weight behind the 'rebel' group that did not show up at the Abeokuta championship. Surely, a battle line has been drawn between the contending forces in the region and a bitter battle is imminent. The shadow of Amos Adamu, cooling his heels in suspension, is casting a pall over WAFU and indeed all of CAF.
The Falcons, once the terror of female football in Africa, the Nigerian national female team, are losing their edge. Last week, in the city of Accra, they fell yakata to their Ghanaian counterparts in the last qualifying match for the next All-Africa Games football event. That means that Nigeria, for the first time, will not be taking part in the football event of the Games. Nigeria's dominance of female football in Africa is now waning, seriously being threatened by a few neighbouring countries particularly Ghana and Cameroon.
In the second leg match in Accra, I am told the Nigerian girls were hapless. Those who reported the match said that the Nigerian team looked very much unlike the team that won the AWC only a few months ago and were hailed as potential world beaters. They appeared bereft of tactical ideas. The Nigerian coach played with six strikers because the team wanted to score goals! Unbelievable! Scoring goals is not about increasing the number of scorers in a team, otherwise every team would simply play with strikers only. I hear the coach's technical ability is now an issue for discussion even amongst those that only a few months ago were singing her praises to high heavens. At that time she was considered so good she was recommended and was appointed into FIFA's team of instructors.
Now, Uche Eucharia has unfortunately become the butt of jabs. She is no longer good enough? The Nigeria Football Association have come out to say that they are not considering firing her. At least for now, there is some respite for the embattled coach and her falling Falcons!
EMENIKE AND THE OVER AGE SYNDROME
I hear that Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike, a new generation Super Eagle and professional player based in Turkey is in the news! I am told he is about to make a big club move that is worth some $4m Dollars or thereabout. The other news is that the young man is taking a newspaper house to court for defamation of character and false information. This is the problem: the newspaper allegedly carried a story claiming that Emenike is not the age he claims to be, and that whilst the Nigerian is masquerading as a 24-year old he is actually above 30! Phew! As a result of this expose, Fernabache FC are having a change of heart buying him. The club does not want to invest heavily in a player that will not last long enough in the game, as a result of age, to enable them trade him after a few years and make some money! Emenike is 'mad' at the news report. He is threatening fire and brimstone. He is challenging the newspaper to prove its claim or face his wrath. I do not really know if the young man is bluffing or is dead serious. Which ever, that would be an interesting case to follow. I hope the young man has his backside well covered!
SEPP BLATTER AND SELECTIVE INVESTIGATION OF CORRUPTION
When I first heard about it I thought it was a joke, an impossible joke. It just could not be true. Last week my friends repeated it and actually confirmed that it took place. The national team of one southern african country was invited to the Far East for an invitational tournament, or a series of friendly matches (I am not sure which now). The team was assembled, were given all the necessary permits and clearances including visas, and made the trip. They played a couple of matches and were roundly trounced. It was the scandalous results of the matches that attracted the attention of officials of the country. Not only were the players not representatives of the national team of the country in question, but were players selected by a football syndicate to throw matches. It was alleged that the players collected money from the racketeers for their ugly deeds. It is simply incredulous that such scams exist in the beautiful game. The world is worried that this story is but a tip of the iceberg. There are even worse stories of match fixing.
Little wonder Sepp Blatter was so incensed he unilaterally paid Interpol some $20m? Dollars to investigate match fixing charges in the game of football. Qatar's Bin Hamman is screaming 'foul' already! He says the FIFA President did not consult with other members of the Executive Committee before embarking on this selective investigation. It would have been more transparent if the investigations were made to cover all matters of corruption in football including all those charges against members of the FIFA Executive Committee. One is left to wonder why Sepp Blatter is neglecting the matter of corruption as a whole that threatens the existence and credibility of the body to such an extent that some countries are threatening to pull out of FIFA and form another global world body if nothing is done! We are watching the drama as it continues to unfold!
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