Veteran journalist and technocrat, Mr. Sunday Dare, was last Wednesday sworn in as the Minister of Youth and Sports by President Muhammadu Buhari along with 42 others at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. He has promised to kick the nation’s sports to greater heights regardless of whose ox is gored. It is reassuring to hear him declare that he would be confrontational in a positive sense.
Presently, the Sports Ministry constitutes the Augean Stables and he would require the strength of Hercules to flush out the mess piled up by the successive ministers most of who knew little or nothing about their mandates other than being addressed as honourable minister.
A sports minister is assessed by the successes recorded by the country among the comity of sporting nations during his tenure. Nigeria has not been well represented at global tournaments in the past decade. For instance, Team Nigeria participated in the London Olympics in 2012 and could not clinch a single medal. No lessons were learnt as exemplified by another dismal performance four years later at the Rio Olympic Games in which only one bronze medal was won in men’s football.
Granted that we have fared relatively well on the continent in the All Africa Games, the 12th edition of which are presently ongoing in Morocco, Nigeria is known to languish in the nether region in the bigger stage including even the Commonwealth Games. We have failed to leverage on whatever strength we have on the continent when confronting challenges from participants on the world stage.
Besides managerial incompetence, poor organisation and lack of commitment on the part of government at all levels, several other factors are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Chief among them is the decaying infrastructure dotting every nook and cranny of the country. Functional sporting facilities are a sine qua non for the overall development of our sports. A situation where infrastructure is decrepit amounts to having good seeds but lacking fertile soil. Virtually all the federal government-owned sporting facilities are in a horrible shape. The main casualty of our horrible maintenance culture is the National Stadium, Surulere. The 60-capacity edifice built to host the 2nd All-Africa Games in 1973 is now a monument of shame. Successive sports ministers have only paid lip service to its rehabilitation. The Sports City has not only fallen into desuetude, but most of the facilities have also been vandalised by area boys and miscreants. The destitute and reptiles are also competing for space.
The last nail appeared to have been driven into its coffin when the Obasanjo Administration bypassed the pride of the Nigerian sporting family and built the Abuja National Stadium, now renamed Moshood Kashimawo Abiola Stadium, to host the 8th All-Africa Games in 2003. Sadly, 16 years down the road, the architectural grandeur is gradually slipping into a sorry state as the Sports City in Surulere. The new minister would be faced with the grim reality when he undertakes a facility tour of the nation’s stadia as the same story can be said of the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, save the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, and perhaps, the Tafawa Balewa Stadium Complex, Bauchi.
The poor facility management can also be blamed on the high turnover of sports ministers, giving rise to policy somersaults. For instance, since the return of democratic governance 20 years ago, no fewer than 10 ministers have run the affairs of the ministry before now. Each of them had different leadership and policy implementation styles. Then there is the internal wrangling, clash of interests as well as endemic corruption. The new minister should be interested in the previous annual budgetary allocations for the maintenance of sports facilities and what had become of the cash.
We cannot imagine Nigeria bidding to host any complex international championships in the foreseeable future. After staging the 1999 FIFA U-19 World Cup Tournament, the Yar’Adua government had to shell out billions of naira to renovate and standardise virtually all the centres designated by the world soccer governing body for another of its tournament 10 years later because all the facilities had gone into desuetude.
There is also the High Altitude Training Centre located in Kuru but abandoned in the 70s. The centre was conceived to groom middle and long distance athletes to give the East African runners with similar climatic condition a run for their money. However, it is sad to note that successive sports ministers have remained uninterested in getting the project off the ground.
In terms of funding, we shall reiterate the calls in our previous editorials for the establishment of Sports Trust Fund, akin to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund, from where resources will be readily available to drive sports in the country.
Finally, we urge the new helmsman to be on top of his game by ensuring that his ministry and the various sporting federations keep tabs on athletes at the current Games in Morocco with a view to hammering out potential medal winners for the Tokyo Olympics next year, even though we are racing against time.
We wish the new minister a successful tenure and hope that he would leave behind legacies that would be difficult to match let alone surpass.