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The problem with Nigeria sports administration

There’s no gainsaying the fact that Nigerian sports is generally in a comatose state right now. Not too long ago, Nigeria literally bred sporting virtuosos – from athletics, boxing, football, to table tennis, lawn tennis and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Nigerian football club sides and national teams were held in considerable awe within and outside Africa. In fact, going by the way our footballers were carting away the CAF African Footballer of the Year Award, one would’ve thought that it was the sole preserve of Nigerians! But today the story is pathetically different.

No Nigerian footballer has made the shortlists for the CAF prized award in the last five years or more. Our senior male and female football teams that once dominated the

African sporting landscape have lost their aura of invincibility and an invisible third-place glass ceiling seems to have been foisted on the Super Eagles at the biennial African Nations Cup. Several top-flight sportsmen and women have changed their nationalities when they could no longer stand the indifference, greed, selfishness and ineptitude of those selected to oversee Nigerian sports.

In trying to explain the reasons for the retrogression, many sports pundits contend that sports cannot be isolated from what is happening in other areas of our national life.

They point out, for instance, that despite the windfall revenues the nation has been accruing from positive developments in world crude oil markets Nigeria isn’t any nearer to exhibiting the signs of a seriously developing nation. Members of this school of thought insist that as it is for politics and governance so it is for sports.

Some others maintain that the grace-to-grass state of the nation’s sports is the end product of the selection of incompetent, bootlicking sports administrators by a destructive cabal in the corridors of power.

They posit that there are too many square pegs today trying to fit into round holes in the various national sports associations. Of course, if the head is rotten there’s very little the rest of the body can do.

Corruption is a cankerworm that has eaten deeply into the nation’s fabric and sports is no exception. Apart from the case of a very large sum of U.S. dollars inexplicably developing wings at the headquarters of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), there’s also that of the All Africa Games where billions of taxpayers’ money was expended and a full rendition of account is yet to be made long after the event was held.

The grapevine is currently abuzz with allegations of messy deals at the secretariat of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the FIFA U-17 World Cup held in Nigeria in October last year. Amebos are whispering loudly that the U-17 tournament was hosted at a huge loss – despite the whopping N12billion sunk into it by the federal government.

I personally find the rumored operating loss befuddling considering that state governments paid for the contractual jobs involved in making their proposed sites meet FIFA’s standards. The annoying part is that when you start asking probing questions all you get is a terse “This is Nigeria”!

Of course, it can only happen in Nigeria! Where else would the football federation sack a coach that went to hell and back to qualify a team for a World Cup tournament only to hire a brand new foreign technical adviser with less than 100 ?days to go to kickoff? The same thing happened in 2002 (involving the same Shuaibu Amodu – the man must be jinxed!), and Nigeria didn’t make it beyond the group stage.

Has there been any nation has wobbled and fumbled like Nigeria at such a critical moment and won the World Cup or performed exceptionally well? Yet, NFF officials are demanding that the new head coach must deliver a semi-finals ticket!

Things can’t get any worse, right? Wrong! The NFF told Nigerians that it has secured a base camp that guarantees the Super Eagles world-class ambience and comfort in Durban, South Africa. A fact-finding mission led by Ms. Aisha Falode of African Independent Television (AIT) discovered that the place

(Hampshire Hotel) is not ideal and befitting for a team with the pedigree of the Super Eagles. It also discovered that the training ground at the Ashton International College was in a complete state of disrepair with the college principal still waiting for the technical team from the Local Organizing Committee to initiate action with the competition less than 80 days away!

An exasperated South African Football Association (SAFA) official who accompanied the Nigerian assessment team was overheard asking: “What is wrong with Nigeria?” “Why should your officials chose such a hotel when there are so many nice ones in Durban that are also very cheap?”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that anyone is guilty of any wrongdoing but tongues are wagging that two individuals, who together with the chief helmsman constitute the ‘Three Musketeers,’ have their fingers deeply entrenched in every imaginable pie – right from team selection, arrangement of international friendly games, and procurement of training camps to appointments of coaches for the nation’s teams.

Do you realize that Nigeria his yet to feature in the African Nations Championships for home-based teams since it was instituted our football administrators obviously don’t see anything wrong with that? Only recently, the home-based Super Eagles again crashed out of the competition after suffering a humiliating drubbing in the hands of a lowly Niger!

Meanwhile, it was reported that our football administrators returned last week from on a joint “inspection tour” of the base camp and training facilities with the technical adviser, Lars Lagerback. Other countries – including less-endowed ECOWAS members like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire – started making solid arrangements for excellent base camps many months back, with their national coaches dictating the pace but in Nigeria it is the Football Association that’s solely in charge.

Are you still wondering why? Upon arrival, Lagerback and NFF top shots held a press conference where the Durban base camp was given a pass mark. What else did anyone expect when it is the same thief that stole your property that’s helping you look for it? Don’t ask Lagerback whether the Durban site compares favorably with the sites he chose while he was head coach of the Swedish team. You and I know the real reason for the “joint inspection.”

Lagerback is obviously not a street-wise Clemens Westerhof and I’ll advice him to be very wary how he hobnobs with his employers because he’ll be entirely on his own if things begin to go awry.  One thing I would urgently like to know is whether any existing law precludes the Gov. Rotimi Amaechi-led Presidential Task Force (PTF) from beaming its searchlight on the various contentious issues in furtherance of transparency and accountability? A stitch in time should save nine. What do you think?