Saturday, November 14, 2015

Solomon Dalong, don't be Minister of football

I have a long list of people worthy of being congratulated on their recent achievements. The first is the newly appointed Nigeria's Minister of Youths and Sports, Hon. Solomon Dalong. Others are the record breaking Jighere Wellington of Nigeria who on Sunday, November 8, 2015 emerged the new Scrabble champion of the world ( the first African) after defeating Lewis Mackay of United Kingdom 4-0 in a Best of Seven series in Perth, Australia. Nigeria also emerged as the best team of the championship as five of its six representatives finished in top 50 players of the tournament with Ayorinde Saidu and Emmanuel Umujose placing 16th and 17th, respectively. I also congratulate the Falconet who qualified for next year's FIFA U-.20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea by beating South-Africa 3 –1 on aggregate, also last Sunday. Lastly, my heartfelt felicitations go to the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria who defeated the African champion, Mali 2-0 in an energy-sapping final last Sunday to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile. In winning the trophy the Golden Eaglets made history as the first team to win the championship five times and the second country, after Brazil, to take the title back-to-back.

Nigeria first won the cup in 1985, exactly 30 years ago, when President Muhammadu Buhari was military Head of State. At this year's tournament, the duo of team captain Kelechi Nwakali and our prolific striker, Victor Osimhen did themselves and the country proud by winning additional two individual laurels each. Kelechi was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament while Victor was the second MVP. Victor who set a new world record as FIFA U-17 highest goal scorer with 10 goals won the Golden Boot Award while Kelechi won the Bronze Boot for being the third highest goal scorer. These young lads are following the footsteps of their senior colleagues, Kanu Nwankwo and Wilson Oruma who in 1993 won the Most Valuable Player and Highest Goal Scorer awards respectively. All these giant strides have given Nigerians something to cheer in spite of the gloomy economic situation plaguing the country. Appreciations are in order for the National Sports Commission and Nigerian Football Federation on these successes.

Team Nigeria's recent victories at the Under-17 FIFA championship in Chile as well as that of Scrabble championship in Australia are coming on the heels of similar feats performed some two months ago by Team Nigeria's contingents to the 2015 Afrobasket in Rades, Tunisia as wells as 11th African Games in Congo Brazzaville. It would be recalled that our teams to the two competitions did the nation proud by coming first and second respectively. It was a sweet revenge when Nigeria's D'Tigers beat its arch-rival and several times nemesis in Basketball, Angola 74-65 in the final of Afrobasket 2015 on August 30 to claim the team's first-ever continental championship. It was also a double victory because; aside being crowned African champions, the Nigerians also qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Furthermore, Chamberlain Oguchi scored 19 points and was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Another high point of the competition for Nigeria was that it produced two out of the five best players in the tournament. At the eleventh African Games in Congo Brazzaville (September 4 to 19), Team Nigeria placed second with 47 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 44 (Bronze) medals behind Egypt's 74 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 63 (Bronze). These are no mean feats!

As the new Sports Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalong settles down to task in his exalted office, I wish to give him a number of unsolicited pieces of advice. Please sir, do not be Minster of Football. How do I mean? It's on record that successive holders of that office have always shown their bias and preference for the round leather game of football to the detriment of other sports. Football gets better funding, better support and better appreciation than all other sports. This is not good enough. Boxing gave Nigeria her first world title through Hogan 'Kid' Bassey. Athletics have not fared badly; Nigeria's Power lifters have been breaking World Records both at Paralympic Games as well as African Games. Table-Tennis has also done Nigerian Sports a world of good. Yet, it is football that Nigerian sports administrators promotes best as they crowned it an unofficial 'King of Sports'. As much attention and support as is being given to football should be extended to other sports who’s Federations are serious.

Second, the new minister should take sports as business and not just as socials or mere means of recreation and entertainment. Sports globally are multi-million dollars businesses capable of contributing meaningfully to a country's Gross Domestic Products and National Income. The value chain in sports is very long and need to be properly harnessed for optimum benefits. Management of stadia alone is a money spinner as spectators pay to watch competitions by their favourite teams and individuals. Sports marketing and sponsorship deals are also honey pots in sports. There are media rights too. Sports like Golf, Basketball, American Soccer, Boxing, Athletics, and Lawn Tennis are contributing hugely to United States of America GDP all because the country's sports managers are maximising the potentials of those sports. That's what Nigeria needs to do under Dalong.

The media right owner of Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom is making a lot of money granting licence to TV and Radio Stations to transmit live matches of Premiership Games. Coaching, Managing players and athletes, Sports betting, Sports promotion, Lotto, and sales of sports merchandise and Sports administration are all big businesses and goldmines that should be tapped into under the new Sports Minister. Hitherto, all the country's national and state stadia have been badly managed and it stands to reason that there is an urgent need to either partly or wholly privatise all of them to enhance better service delivery. Additionally, the Minister should deal decisively with issue of corruption in our sports administration. That is one key reason private sector involvement in sponsorships and promotions have been very negligible. I learnt the Honourable Minister has pledged to sanitise the sports sector, that is the way to go and I wish him well in that herculean assignment. On a lighter note, since Alhassan Yakmut who is the Director-General of the National Sports Commission and the new sports minister are from Plateau State, we now have 'Plateau United' (which is the name of the football club from the state) in Nigeria's sports administration. Goodluck to them!