NIGERIAN SPORTS: WHAT FUTURE FOR A DYING BRAND?
Dick Tiger was an international boxing legendary brand. So was Ben Lion Heart, an international wrestling icon. But t at the nadir were Mike Bamidele, light weight wrestling champion of the world and Power Mike the heavy weight wrestling champion of the world in their times! They were so good the world and international media converged on our very own National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos to watch them take on all comers from around the world. These were all proudly Nigerian sports brands.
Thunder Balogun was a mythical but real character in football; his shot, a goal-keeper’s nightmare. But all that happened in the 1960s and & 70s. The 1973 All Africa Games turned Surulere into a sports city. The youth
in its environs thronged the brand new National Stadium to meet mostly foreign coaches train them on how to play ping-pong, better known as table-tennis, judo, karate, boxing, swimming, football, athletics and so on. The result was a domination of Nigerians in many key sports in Africa at that time. In sharp contrast, the Abuja National stadium is abject, forlorn and unwelcoming, located well beyond the reach of the youth population who would have sunk their hearts in it to give it life and soul.
Private promoters of sports back in the day also had a field day. Privately owned clubs were the stuff of folk tales. First Bank FC, Union Bank FC, Abiola Babes FC, Stationery Stores FC, ACB, Leventis United, Bendel Insurers held sway in their home states and across the nation. States and federal institutions were not left out as they utilised sports as a public relations tool and it was a win-win result for all parties. The youth who were typically from challenged backgrounds, the fans who followed their local clubs with resolute passion, the sponsoring individuals, organisations or states who gained tremendous goodwill and spin-off benefits, the fans also got well thrilled and ente
rtained and of course, the society and economy was socially healthy and stimulated towards the finer ideals of productivity, sportsmanship and national pride.
Perhaps to date the most robust plan for sports development was put in place not by a sports minister but a one-time military governor of the then Mid-West State (today’s Edo and Delta states combined), General Samuel Ogbemudia. He invested heavily in infrastructure, equipment, training and mentoring. The net effect was to be felt even decades after he was removed from office as his state produced some of the best athletes for many years to come.
So What happened along the way? When, where, how and why did we lose our focus. Why has Nigerian sports been dithering so periliously on the precipice over the recent decades? Why are our victories and celebrations so shortlived, so tentative, so unpredictable?
BRANDPOWER scans the Nigerian sportscape and the result is heart rending as we feature some of the key problems and the apostle of good governance in sports, our very own Godwin Dudu-Orumen, celebrity columnist, a barrister-at-law and avid sports journalism icon to take us through the maze of dream-killing challenges.
CORRUPTION IN THE FIELD
BRANDPOWER findings confirm that the single most deadly element against the development of football is the pervasive corruption in and around the game. As is the case with many spheres of Nigerian life, tunnel vision, unbridled greed and crass promtotion of narrow selfish agenda has been the bane of our sp
orts. Sports is mainly a human activity aided by strategy, tactics, passion and long term investments. The best time to catch future champions is in their youth, their teenage years, sometimes their childhood. However when you realise that Nigeria is perhaps the only country which during peace time does not have any integrated coaching and competitive programme for its schools then we begin to realise why a lot of our youth only discover their talent in their mid or late 20s after paying their dues in mediocre professional teams.
If we blame the government for lack of dedication to sports development then perhaps we should reserve a pride of place for officials, players and fans of home clubs. Referees are routinely bribed by home teams to ‘deliver’ games and this is done without any modicum of finesse. This came to a ridiculous climax earlier in the year with a record 146 games in 2 games featuring 2 relegation bound amateur teams. The culprits where handed sanctions ranging from lengthy suspensions to life bans but minister for sports, Bolaji Abdullahi insists that there are enough provisions in our books to institute criminal prosecution against the culprits. Nigerians are still waiti
ng for the law to take its course.
Fans, on the other hand do not give referees much of a chance to play fair as defeat of the home club is usually ‘rewarded’ with savage attacks by the supposed fans. If the the coach is not ‘smart’ enough to escape, he too will receive the VIP treatment from the host fans. This was taken to a new high recently when a group of home fans made an unholy stop at the hotel of the officiating referees’ hotel, and despite police protection were savagely attacked and molested at 4.30am.
Of course, in an environment where recurrent expenditure is scandalously higher than capital, health and educational expenditures it does not come as a surpise that the budget for sports and youth development for the entire nation is barely sufficient to run a programme for college students in the state of New York. Meanwhile most of the funds end u
p as ‘running expenses’ for sports administrators Yet we want to compete at the international stage…
QUESTIONABLE CREDENTIALS OF ADMINISTRATORS
Adokiye Amiesimaka is lawyer and a former commissioner for justice a
nd attorney-general of Rivers state but he is better remembered as one of Nigeria’s most celebrate
d left-forward with his trade mark number 11 shirt in the then Green E
agles. In recent times, he has been screaming to high heavens that the quality of football admi
nistrators in the country is below par. He challenges their competence, integrity and even disposition to the good of the game. As f
This disposition is reflected at age-grade tournaments during which over-aged players are diligently scouted for and drafted to bring undeserved glory to the country. At the senior level, many a sports man and woman has complained that favouritism and extortion ar as Amiesimaka is concerned most of the administrators are only concerned about themselves and not the sport or the players.
d loudly if the officials could be as desperate as to do that to him despite his high office what sports men and lower placed Nigerians were going through in the hands of the administratorshave been key elements in team selection processes. Amounts declared and signed for as allowances and bonuses are not fully disbursed to the beneficiaries as officials are said to collect an illegal ‘levy’ from such monies. This was taken to a ridiculous height when a serving governor from the South-west in the early 2000s who was on an official federal government delegation was requested to sign for a sum much higher than was issued to him. He wondere
LACK OF PROVISION FOR RECREATIONAL PARKS/SPORTS CENTRES
Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State has made tremendous progress in trying to redevelop the Rowe Park on Lagos Island and the Agege Stadium. The Navy Barracks field in Ajegunle is also brimming with life once again. He has also created sporting and recreational hubs in the Ikoyi and Gbagada to keep the youth busy. However, these parks and playing fields were p
art of the master plan for Lagos when those towns were springing up. Later developments such as Lekki, Iyana-Ipaja, Magodo, Ajangbadi and so on do not have clearly demarcated areas for public recreation and sports. This strange (un)development, of building communities without recreational/sports parks is replicated across the states in the country. Most of the time the youth play in undeveloped plots of land in their neighbourhood but in due course when the owner builds on it they are left with fewer or no options as every corner in their locality is turned into a concrete jungle. Respected sports journalist, Godwin Dudu-Orumen believes that making all secondary schools have playing fields will ameliorate the disturbing trend.
Until recently, the Boys Brigade, Boys’ Scout and Girls’ Guild were the main academies for youth training in the country but a rash of Sports Academies have suddenly emerged. Naturally, being the most popular sport in Nigeria, of them are Football Acade
mies promoted and managed mainly by former national team players. The acclaimed motivation for this development is to discover and nurture talents early enough but in an exclusive interview on the subject (please see our Brand Personality section), Dudu-Orumen explains that it goes beyond making them excel in the sport. Academies, he says are supposed to build self-confidence in children and youth and make them communicate and interact better with one another. It also imbues in them the values of co-operation and team building.
Presently, there are about 150 football Academies in the country. It would, howev
er seem that our football at club and national level is yet to reap the benefits of such a preponderance of academies. But then, it is early days yet.
NEXT LEVEL FOR SPORTS
It is the same old song. Nigerians have been forced to provide too many things for themselves, by themselves. We provide our electricity, security, water, transportatio
n, schools and health-care but sport is one area where efforts need to be collective and integrated. Anyone with the faintest idea about how sporting excellence is attained knows that a clearly defined youth development and sports programme needs to be articulated by the various tiers of government. In it, roles of schools, communities, professionals, parents, corporate organizations and the youth themselves will be outlined with an incentivisation scheme. Scho
ols and community based competitions must make a bold come-back and investors in sports must begin to have a greater involvement in its administration, just like the bankers have bankers’ committee where they discuss and determine policy with officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
We must begin to understand that sport is not just a discipline or a past time, it is big business and with a population like Nigeria’s it is clearly an untapped goldmine. Besides, sports business is just like farming as, at all times, you reap what you sow.