Nigeria: Abuja 2014 - What a Relief
Just like Innocent Egbunike's recent exposé on the rot within Nigeria's tottering sports bureaucracy, my ex-colleague, Larry Izamoje, an enthusiast and notable investor in sports, at a press interview sometime ago, rather correctly summarised the depth to which Nigerian sports has sunk.
Prodded by the reporter to assess Nigeria's chances in the next Nations Cup soccer-fest in Ghana, Larry was characteristically curt: "You won't even see a bronze."
You may choose to believe Mr. Izamoje, or not; but look at the gradient of Nigeria's slide in visibility and stature, especially in continental and global sports competitions. That's the path the Nigerian Sports Ministry's (or what's the current name?) men and women have successfully managed our sports on to.
By allowing sports in the hands of inexperienced politicians, desperate and mischievous public service goons, we are terribly toying with the only fibre that truly ties together the hearts and the source of mirth of millions of Nigerians of different tribes and religions.
Last week's disaster in Colombo, following Nigeria's failure to win the bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Abuja, will, as usual, soon be forgotten.
After all, Sri Lanka is pretty far away from Nigeria, and soon, we will plod into another costly national misadventure. But still, every time I see an Abuja city bus pass by, bearing inscriptions, announcing the 2014 Commonwealth Games and with murals depicting white people, either lifting weights, or running, it stresses the point to me that we had surrendered, long before the Colombo outing.
In sports, real preparation starts on the mental plane.
Even if we were to have won the bid, were we unknowingly communicating our inner fears, feelings and complexes, that the games were, after all, for the whites, or what? By Commonwealth standards, Nigeria has a proud record. In the case of weight lifting, for instance, why did the publicity planners not think of a champion like Lawrence Iguaibom, or better still, Oliver Orok? In athletics, we couldn't remember Mary Onyali - Omagbemi, or Falilat Ogunkoya? We couldn't use these Nigerians to convince ourselves of our prowess, in the days of yore? Those consultants who badly advertised the level of their trade on behalf of Nigeria in Sri Lanka, should explain some things to Nigerians. And by the way, what was the point of not allowing Nigerians to see the bid documents and other materials, before heading for Colombo?
Let's state here very clearly that sports is essentially all about youth, and by implication, vibrancy, energy, vision, creativity, perseverance and the explosive spirit to compete. So, I ask, what was the committee that former President Obasanjo assembled, to be led by old Pa Yakubu Gowon, to do exactly, to compete and bring the Games to Abuja? Pray that the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Games Association should pity Africa and let the Games come to Abuja? Because this theme appeared to have been our strongest argument. Such balderdash!
In a wide field of 71 votes, with Africa holding 18, the largest, followed by the Caribbeans, with 15 - a largely black zone, Nigeria still lost 24 to 47 votes? We can, therefore, ask, in whose competent and experienced hands were the bid preparations left in terms of technical knowledge, international sports politics and modern skills in big time event management?
Were we not just mooning about, because few weeks and days to the final day of announcement, you could pick up the vibes (and jibes, too), even within Africa, doubting Nigeria's seriousness and real sense of genuine commitment in Abuja, to win and host the Games, in ways that were to make them proud?
Again, we can interject, as a reminder that the Los Angeles Olympics preparation, as an entertainment, sports and business project, was given to one American called Peter Ueberoth, to organise and run - I think he also declared some profit at the end of the show.
I imagine where we can find such a man in Nigeria, with truly technical competence; a sense of duty and commitment; international exposure; bursting enthusiasm and passion, to call up for national assignments like serious international summits, sports, and all. I can't seem to recall a name - Okpomo, Dankaro, Williams (SB)? But they are all dead! Last time, a comical, half-hearted bid for the World Cup, by some carefully selected Nigerians, was sensibly aborted halfway, when it became obvious that the entire enterprise didn't deserve the attention and the money spent.
I think we are not applying the necessary energy and skills to make sports work and serve the country. And I think we have strangely lost sports to some clever, officious bureaucrats' influence and money-driven careerists, ensconced in the quiet maze of officialdom, to run it down. Government's flimsy interest in sports, is also a source of worry. Any Nigerian who is interested in sports, can easily explain why and how sports ministers are appointed here: if the fellow looks young, or boyish, pronto, he's a sports minister! But sports as business deserves serious handling. Those engaged in it, are talented professionals, and it is organised and run by serious-minded people. It has become an incredible business that makes huge profits and brings fame, recognition, pride and stature to individuals, and nations, around the world.
In Nigeria, the case is markedly different. The sports mafia is so entrenched in the establishment that nobody seems to be able to help. In fact, I'm not aware if the finances and the proceedings of the last All Africa Games have been properly prepared and submitted to the appropriate authorities.
This makes me wonder if the sports establishment simply used Pa Gowon, or the old general himself agreed to being saddled with such task. Otherwise, the public would have to be informed of what happened, in terms of the funding of the bid committee; the technical depth of the committee members in all fields of sports, international politics in sports and organising, as well as records of competence in international relations, sports management, advertising, marketing and communication.
We have to know these things, and in seeking to know them, it will be totally useless to ask the sports gurus and administrators to probe themselves. In fact, there should be various levels of probe involving cases like how the entrenched mafia wangled such a wondrous contract for Mr. Berti Vogts, which makes him to earn so much, while residing in his home country to work for Nigeria; the scandal involving the national female team in China; how and why Coach Yemi Tella died, while every body watched; the NFL mess, etc etc.
Was Abuja truly ready to host the 2014 Games? I really don't know. But even if we had all the logistics and infrastructure in place; arrested all the armed robbers in town and made the taps to pour forth clean water in the FCT and caused NEPA (indeed, the bad old NEPA!) to yield constant public power supply; cleared traffic bottlenecks and spruced up hotels, restaurants and street corners, what about the real people to run the Games?
Were we honestly sure of the level of seriousness of the event timekeepers, the protocol people; those who would have been in charge of transport, accommodation, lighting at the event venues; and indeed, who could have been the fellow to coordinate all the activities? I bet, we would have sent all these people to Europe and America for training. If that be the case, why bring the Games here? Sad as it turned out, to be honest, for me, it was a huge relief that Abuja didn't make it... this time. If we are really smart, this then is the real time to begin to prepare for future engagements in serious matters like hosting the world.