This year – 2014 promises to be a year of intense political activity with attendant divisions in Nigeria. One activity that would definitely excite Nigerians across political divide, and create a basis for common understanding, sentiments and aspirations is Sports.
The past year was a mixed bag for Nigerian sports. Football by and large was a success with the Super Eagles winning the African Nations Cup and the Golden Eaglets triumphing at the U-17 World Cup.
The other major sports did not do so well however, with both men and women’s basketball teams failing to advance beyond the quarter finals of the Nations Cup and thus failing to qualify for the World Championships in 2015. In athletics Blessing Okagbare was a lone star, winning the nation’s two medals at July’s World Championship.
Howbeit, 2014 provides Nigeria the opportunity to consolidate or bounce back as the case may be as it is going to be a busy year for sports. The Super Eagles will be going to Brazil in June for the World Cup, and this is a chance to better their last two outings at the Mundial where they crashed out at the group stage.
But if the team must equal the feats of 1994 and 1998 and go on better, not only must preparation be taken as sacred; thankfully Coach Stephen Keshi has scored high marks in this regard, but issues of bonus row that almost blighted Nigeria’s participation at the Confederations Cup in Brazil, must never reoccur. The Minister of Sports Bolaji Abdullahi stepped in that time and we hope that has been fully resolved.
Again, the frequent delay in the payment of salaries to coaches must be sorted out once and for all. Keshi had to take the fact that he was owed seven months salaries to the press before his employers, the Nigeria Football Federation hurriedly paid him five months. The federation must find ways to pay all its coaches their salaries. Bonuses and allowances cannot be equated with salaries, so NFF’s argument that Keshi could live on his allowances won’t wash.
The constant cry by the NFF that it is broke won’t wash either. Indeed the whining about lack of funds has become a boring tune, and needs to stop. We aver that the Super Eagles are big enough for the federation to be able to generate funds to run their various programmes. Indeed the money from sundry sponsors like Guinness, Cadbury, Globacom etc. not to mention the funds that will accrue from FIFA are enough to cover the team’s activities.
For instance we do know that $1.5m preparation cost and another $8.5m for just taking part in the World Cup will accrue to the federation. Although part of this fund will come just before or after the tournament, NFF should not sing its usual refrain. They can borrow money and offset same later when funds finally come from Zurich. The coaches must not be put in a situation where they can’t be fully focused on the job, whether it is with CHAN which gets underway in January or the big one ahead.
There have been remarks in the past that NFF cries about been broke often so as to get funds from the government; as such money is less likely to be accounted for. Whatever the case, football is about the only rallying point in a very fractious country and it won’t do for the federation to endanger that.
2014 is also the year of the Commonwealth Games and with the fiasco of London Olympics still fresh, this is another opportunity to get it right at the world stage. With barely eight months to the Glasgow Games, preparation should be in top gear already. Elite athletes we hear have been given funds for training, but we dare say that all the athletes billed for the games should be engaged as of now in full preparation, elite or not.
2014 can be a turning point in Nigerian sports, and still offer Nigerians the much needed elixir in a year of political struggle, if the right things are done.