Nigeria Is Yet To Set A Real Sports Policy (1)

| January 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

This is a two part series dealing with issues that should have been addressed by the forgotten presidential sports retreat that never was other than a party time with no agenda. Athletics will occupy part 1 while football and swimming will be discussed in part 2. The so-called sports’ retreat turnout to be a shameful public spectacle that no-one find difficulty in predicting its’ outcome (lack of a better words ‘dust-gathering document escapade’). Monies were wasted and such funds replaced welfare of our budding athletes.

ATHLETICS

Recently, the media informs us of certain movements by various parties towards the country haphazard ‘major sports’ agenda and no one said anything about athletics except perhaps discredited individuals within that Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN). The Sports Minister on his part advocated Delta state solution with oblique argument that since ‘Delta is doing something then others must follow’ (including him) regardless of how bad that agenda was at London Olympics.

That agenda also included advertisement (to Nigerians) of a US drug violator, formerly a mediocre US sprinter (Garfield Ellenwood) as Nigeria’s Olympic Coach before public (later Federal Government) outcry. This action was a desperate attempt by Solomon Ogba (outgoing AFN leader) to bring credibility of foreign coaches to his coaching crew without a basic due diligence because he had alienated all good qualified coaches including Pat Itanyi, Tony Osheku, Lee Evans and others.

Many individuals also cried foul at the Sports Ministry and AFN but those in charge ignored all warnings. In fact, in one instance prior to the Olympics Solomon Ogba wrote, “AFN will no longer tolerate you”

Some of the reasons cited for such alienation included the fact that some coaches choose not to become Delta State Coaches while others were blacklisted because the federation owed them money and Mr. Ogba directed AFN not to pay them for lack of performance.

In reality though, the key problems were approaches to sports development and management of financial resources available to AFN. That outgoing Board received more money than three previous Boards combined and only catered a fraction of athletes handled by the previous Boards. And its’ a forgone conclusion that these outgoing Board members lacked required competence and must never return to head any organization in any sports governance capacity. Cronyism, god-fatherism, nepotism and other lacked transparent action must cease immediately.

ISSUES

Wrong Development Approach

A policy of significant reliance on poached Americans (athletes born and raised in USA) of Nigerian origin who failed to make US national team at the expense home grown development of over 100 million youths is a clear defeatist attitude and it destroyed AFN.

This is in no way taking away individual efforts by those athletes (we loved them for that). But that approach created designation of two classes of athletes, negative treatment of some athletes fingered for drug testing without notice, as well as preferential treatment accorded some athletes and their coaches such as receiving first class airline tickets while others fly on economy or buses as well as allowances been shortchanged for home-based.

Negative impact of poaching became clear at London where pitting athletes and coaches against each other nearly resulted in a riot (London Olympics is not distant memory)

Now the Minister for Sports wants to nationalize this Delta agenda despite overwhelming majority of States Governors’ objection and his lacked legal authority. National Sports Commission Act does not grant the Minister any power to usurp the mandate of National Assembly (lawmakers).

However, as of today the Minister retracted his pronouncement (published in Thisday newspaper of 1 January 2013) with a another political catch phrases, essentially that U-17 Games will replace National Sports Festival (NSF) but the country will have limited sports “open” games. He opined that average age of last NSF athlete was 24 and that those athletes were too old. Though correct (and welcomed except for wasteful open games) but the key concern with this conclusion is that the Minister needs to break down this average by states and he would surely finds out that Delta and River States (poaching policies) were responsible for this age concern. Lagos, Ogun, Gombe, Cross Rivers, Oyo, Kwara and many other states will surely challenge the Minister statistics on average age of their NSF athletes.

The Minister should also note that Blessing Okagbare said that the timing of the now so-called open games couldn’t fit within her schedule although; some mouthpiece of Dr. Uduaghan in athletics community (paid so-called sports consultant) and tired footed athletes whose better days ended many years ago still wanted open festival. The question is in our future days of austere measures where is the “beef”.

Nevertheless, the Minister now recognizes the dangers of poaching from wherever as an agent of regression that must stop and the focus must be U-17 not ageing London Olympics returnees.

Discrimination and Blacklisting by AFN, Patrick Ekeji and Maria Worphil

Furthermore, outgoing AFN boss openly declared severally that unless coaches sign on as Delta coach would they be paid allowances due them or ever is invited as a national coach as long as he remain the AFN. In fact he unilaterally removed Pat Itanyi (responsible for over 70% of Olympics team) from national team consideration simply because she refused to sign on as Delta coach. His focus only on Delta signed athletes at all international youth, junior and senior level competitions were confrontational to many athletes. Some athletes who choose to remain in their home state were ignored, fingered for questionable drug testing and made to meet unreachable standards.

Patrick Ekeji on his part removed some coaches from training tour lists simply because they voiced their concerns to the media along with imposing coaches on AFN where such actions and similar acts were seconded by Solomon Ogba and Maria Worphil, in her 25th year as paid secretary by IAAF and NSC even though NSC lacked any authority to determine any AFN staff.

Ms Worphil was illegally imposed on AFN contrary to IAAF rules. She has a habit going shopping on international trips rather than focusing on the task at hand. The question is why did she received and continue to receive two salaries for doing the same function simultaneously. Imagine how many athletes her NSC salary alone could have funded? This where AFN funding that supposed to be meant for athletes welfare resided (i.e. unclean hands).

Are these athletes and coaches free as any other Nigerians? When did AFN become Athletics Federation of Delta State? Why should we not send Solomon Ogba and Maria Worphil packing? My view is Solomon Ogba and Maria Worphil must be shown the door never to return to athletics, with immediate effect (otherwise there will not be peace in athletics in the next four years). That does not mean his and her services may not be needed somewhere else (we encourage him to pursue such).

Obviously Nigerians expects the Sports Ministry to claim ignorance of these built-in discriminatory and blacklisting problems but this write-up defeats such claim ever again.

Imagine the results in 2020 Olympics that can be achieved if Sports Ministry simply refocus all efforts on U-17 in all sports, abandon so-called open games and re-direct all funding of AFN towards our current youth for accommodation, employment, training and facilities.

Quite frankly, miracle can also occur in 2016 with U-17 athletes camped from now but I frowned at the idea of another reliance on Blessing Okagbare and Ajoke Odumosu (yes they are both over the so-called Minister’s 24years old average because they will likely be around 30 years old then).

Wrong Marketing / Promotion Strategy

The Sports Minister also argued that opening the festival to Americans and Europeans will invites Television rights and private advertising funding, which will eventually makes AFN self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the Minister still does not understand that AFN is fully funded and self-sufficient for years despite that federation receiving duplicate funding from NSC. The Minister should be asking the federation to publicly disclose their private funding sources and all amounts received along with full detail of spending before insinuating that AFN was not adequately funded.

Advertisers deal with demographics and target audience. Zero audience is what AFN or NSC wants to promise television executives and expect phantom funding, that is at best laughable and not well researched. The key question is how possible can the Minister believed that these same athletes that failed to pack our stadiums in their glory days can now magically filled the stadium in their twilight.

The Minister must know that some of the country’s recognized stars were banned in their twilight years for drug doping. The returning London Olympians are all in their twilight and the Minister does not see obvious concerns?

Wasted Funds

In less than four years, AFN received in excess of:

N250 Millions from Cross River State;

N150 Millions from Delta State;

N7 Millions from Ogun State;

N12.6 Millions from Samsung;

N75 Millions from Sinopec Oil Company;

N26Millions from Mobil Oil;

N20 Millions from Pastor Olukoya;

N11 Millions from Glo;

N13 Millions from the athletes;

N80 Millions from IAAF;

And N400 Millions from NSC.

The total number of athletes that AFN claimed it funded and presented internationally were less than 50 in 3 years. The outgoing Board members must account to Nigerians, for all funding received in detail, return all materials belonging to the federation and refrain from further activities in the name of AFN immediately. In comparison, Yomi Wilson, Dan Ngerem and Violet Nwajei regimes catered for over 100 athletes each for all their camping and travels with funding which was less than 10% of monies available to Solomon Ogba’s Board. Furthermore, each of those regimes delivered many Olympics medals including Gold to the country.

Let me be clear here, Nigeria did not win AFRICAN ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIP IN PORTO NOVO (in 2012) and it is about time that Sports Minister recognizes that even though AFN continue to lie to Nigerians. Doping violations remove Nigeria as the winner.

The weirdest of NSC scripted actions so far is that the Sports Minister said that the government chose to let the federation coordinated National Sports Festival because expected new regime will be bunch of rookies. Though unintelligent assessments of individuals within athletics community but its very rude and insulting to former Board members and highly qualified others who aided deliveries of Olympics Gold medals athletes to the country and the officials who administered competitions in past years.

Is the Minister suggesting that Bruce Ijirigho, Wale Olukoju, Fatima Yussuf-Olukoju, Tobias Igwe, Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa, Godwin Odinukaeze, Tony Osheku, Falilat Ogunkoya, Pat Itanyi, Lee Evans, Orode Oyiki, Mutiu Oluwa, Henry Amike and others cannot organize a great NSF? Frankly, the Minister must at the very least terminate employment of all his aides guiding him in making public statements that embarrasses the Presidency.

REALITY AND PRACTICAL SOLUTION

To discuss a ground level solution to sports development, unfortunately, an intelligent individual will ask whether necessary facilities and governing structure exist. If such facilities and adequate governing structure does not exist then all efforts are hypothesis or trial and error. That means dead on arrival.

Again this thinking negates UK restructuring formula for Nigeria because Nigeria never achieved half of UK achievements in (any) sport that was reorganized and Nigeria never had a functional sports governance dicta. Therefore, this note discusses a need and proper guidance (step by step) on establishing a proper governance or sports policy for AFN.

The expired Board members and past members of Board of directors cannot be eligible for any future membership,

Maria Worphil (NSC imposed secretary) must return to NSC and never appointed to any role involving AFN again (over 25 years destruction of AFN is enough),

The old (existing) AFN structure is an illegal entity and must be declared as such for exceeding number of members without registration under Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA),

National Sports Commission must define the word “stakeholder” narrowly. The hint is IAAF or FIFA rules must be followed (that is any governmental entity does not meet such rule),

The NSC can appoint or facilitates appointment of interim stakeholders to take over affairs of AFN until AFN reorganizes under CAMA rules,

The outgoing Board must render account of all revenues and expenses in the past four years,

The agenda of the interim Board include creating AFN as a corporate body (though not for profit), hiring of the federation President, setup of rules required for new board elections (following NSC standards), setup of financial control, promotional / advertising and financing strategy along with advocacy programs,

The athletes and coaches are already forming their own associations (a welcome development) which can eventually results in their representatives (stakeholders) to the next legitimate Board.

Until all structures are in place and functioning properly before a new Board can be appointed. That Board will determine its own policy through a committee it must setup.

In all honesty AFN and Sports Ministry should focus on U-17 right from now and existing ageing athletes should not occupy high priority in the next seven years. Incidentally, former and current athletes are ready to lay all hands on deck but they will not deal past Board Members (its’ not even funny how bad AFN was destroyed).

In closing, the past three years AFN relied significantly on American born and raised (Nigeria origins) athletes who failed to make US teams. Not to take away anything like patriotism or individual efforts but shouldn’t Nigerians ask, how the country expects to win Olympics medal when even the US team finds it difficult to win event these days and Nigeria relied on individuals’ who cannot make the US team?

There is no magic in looking at this scenario; AFN is simply telling us, even though some athletes cannot make US team that Nigerian coaches can make them defeat the WORLD. I don’t get this.

I rest.

Dr. Rashid A. Balogun, CPA, LLB(Hons.), LLM(London)

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