INTERVIEW –Veteran sport journalist speaks on the misfortunes of Nigerian sports.
From the comfort of his home, far away in Manchester, United Kingdom, Waheed Jinadu, a former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the defunct newspaper, Today Sport, in an interview with Damilola Daniel, shares his thoughts on why sports administrators in Nigeria prefer neglecting other sports for football. The veteran journalist, who once served as the National Assistant Secretary of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, said the best period of Nigeria’s success in sports generally was during the military regimes. He shares his opinion on how the Buhari-led government can move Nigerian sports forward.
Sports enthusiasts believe football is the only sport getting the attention of sports administrators in Nigeria. If you agree with them, why is this so?
Football will always get the attention of sports administrators in Nigeria because that is the area where government spends money without any complain. When it comes to football, such matter gets to the presidency and the national assembly; and without much stress, the administrators get exactly what they requested for. Sadly, that is not the experience with other sports in the country.
The tragedy is that all the sports administrators we have had always acknowledge the fact that the focus on football only is the problem of Nigerian sports, yet they won’t do anything to solve that problem. When they get to power, they will highlight the problem and even tell the whole world that sports in Nigeria will not be about football alone. But you will still see them concentrate on the same thing. The trend also continues because those in government always encourage a situation where attention is focused on football only. Other sports will struggle for equipment, struggle to send their athletes for trainings, and struggle for sponsorships. At the end, what they get from the government most times is an advice on the need to source for funds from corporate world.
The interesting thing is that, if there is any sport anywhere in the world that can get sponsorship and funding outside of government, it is football; including the case in Nigeria. Apart from the so many companies that are currently sponsoring football in Nigeria, there are still many others that are willing to invest in football because of the publicity and the mileage it provides. Even the grant that comes from the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) alone, if well managed, is enough for any team to fund its programmes.
For sports administrators in Nigeria, football provides easy meat for them. There is sponsorship from FIFA, there is sponsorship from corporate world, and the government is also giving them everything they need. There is so much money in football in Nigeria. That is why it is convenient for an administrator to just relax and start thinking of how to share money and get whatever he or she can get from sport in Nigeria through football, than start thinking of how to raise money to make other sports grow. That is the main challenge of sports in Nigeria. Our sports administrators are so lazy that they don’t want to start sourcing from funds to grow other sports.
(Interject) That may be the reason why our national football teams sometimes perform well at competitions.
Another tragedy of Nigerian sports is that if the national football team is doing well, nobody bothers about what is happening to other sports. If the Eagles are winning Nations cups and are advancing at international tournaments, the conclusion of an average Nigerian is that Nigerian sports are generally doing well. Also, when Nigerian football teams are failing, the conclusion is that Nigerian sports are failing; even when there are giant strides being made in other sports. Other sports as well as their teams hardly get celebrated like we esteem football and the national teams. We have sort of aggregate all our sports development on football alone.
Even in the corporate world, the interest to support other sports is not there because the government that should provide the enabling environment is not doing so. For instance, why would companies want to sponsor boxing, when they know that at the end of the day, the competition will only produce winners at the national level? What will happen at the international level is uncertain to them. The government that should back such winners to train abroad and attend international competitions that could give mileage to those companies is not doing so. By the time the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games come, such boxers are not well prepared to make meaningful impact.
(Interject) Nigeria is known for its fire brigade approach to preparing for competitions; and it sometimes work in our favour.
Such fire brigade approach amounts to nothing at the end of the day. In actual sense, when you see a Nigerian athlete perform very well at international levels, you should know that such athlete cannot be a product of the Nigerian situation. What that athlete needs to excel at international competitions is not available in Nigeria. The kind of high class facilities and trainings are not available in Nigeria. For any Nigerian athlete to compete with top athletes around the world who have the privilege of preparing with high class facilities, such Nigerian athlete must have been exposed to similar facilities too.
With a new government in power promising change in all sectors, do you see a change in the culture that focuses on football only; particularly in the appointment of a technocrat sport minister?
While we understand that football will always been popular, if we really want to grow Nigerian sports, we cannot continue to focus on football only. If you recall, there was a time certain sports in Nigerian were always in the news. There was a time we had weighlifting, wrestling, boxing, table tennis, and other sport of athletics; dominated by people from Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and some other parts of the country. What happened then was just the willpower to develop those sports. Ironically, that was also the time of the military regimes.
Today, you will think football is the only sport existing in Nigeria. In England, you don’t get to see the chairman of the English Football Association everywhere in the media. The only visible and notable person is the manager of the national team. And that is how it should be. But in Nigeria, everybody knows Amaju Pinnick as the President of the Nigeria Football Federation because the association is always in the news. They are always in court fighting over positions. When you see Nigerians scrambling for such positions, it can never be because of what they want to contribute, but because of what they want to get. That is why you see the members invest a lot of time and resources in court cases.
The best period of Nigeria’s success in sports generally was during the military regimes. At that time, we only had a military sport minister. There was no national assembly that would talk about budget or sport committee of the national assembly that would want a share of the cake. It was just one person who was in charge as a military sport minister. So, it was easy at that time for the minister to approach the presidency directly.
You see, we all love democracy, but our politicians are not disciplined. With all the faults of the military regimes, there was that discipline in many of them. Even in terms of corruption, there was a limit to which they enriched themselves. But today, the reverse is the case. There are so many selfish politicians today. At every level, there is corruption. So, before you have anything left for the main administration of sports, the politicians have taken their own shares. You see them charter aircrafts to watch our national teams play abroad, with huge allowances allotted to themselves for attendance. Meanwhile, during the military era, the number of people who were actually involved in sharing resources was very few. So, they had enough money for other sports. It was easy for the athletes to be sent on training facilities outside Nigeria; and it was easy for us to attend and perform well at international competitions.
I believe there is hope and things will turn around in Nigerian sports. If we lose hope, then we are saying that is the end. I know one day things we change if people don’t keep quiet about the rout in the system. I believe somebody somewhere who is in a position to listen will do the right thing one day. It almost happened during the time of Bolaji Abdullahi before he was sacked because of political calculations. I don’t know why Nigerian leaders don’t like someone who is getting results. In a serious country, if the best person for a position is from the opposition, that person will be appointed. It is only in Nigeria that we place premium on political consideration than nation building.
(Interject) President Muhammadu Buhari is generally believed to be disciplined. One can only hope that quality would guide him in appointing his ministers.
If you look at President Buhari’s life style, there is no question that he is a disciplined person because of his lack of interest in material acquisitions; unlike past Nigerian leaders. But I pity him now because he is involved in politics, and there is a lot of ego to massage. I don’t want to be too optimistic about what Buhari will achieve in sports. What I think will help him is to get the right person as a sport minister. For a country that relies on government for funding, you really need somebody in that position who can distribute the financial resources fairly and knows the areas to prioritise.
Even if we can’t develop all sports at the same time, those ones where we have potentials such as athletics, power sports, combat sports, basket ball, hand ball, and other indoor sports should be prioritised. With a lot of encouragements and funding, we can do very well to international level in those sports. If we can establish a very good foundation for these sports and make them attractive like football, companies will sponsor them. For instance, if companies know that the nation is doing very well in athletics and winning at international competitions, they will be confident to sponsor because they know that the same mileage they will get sponsoring football is what is available to them in other sports. By the time government builds these sports to a certain level that corporate organisations are willing to relief them from the financial pressure, then government can move to other sports and develop them too.
But if President Buhari doesn’t get the right person, then his lifestyle as a disciplined person will amount to nothing at the end of the day, because he cannot be the President of the nation and a sport minister at the same time. If he appoints a politician who sees the appointment as an opportunity to make money and reward those who recommended him or her, then we are not going to make headway.
I also want to see a situation where the chairmen of all the sports associations in the country wake up to their responsibilities. I want to see a scenario where a sport association chairman will package their best talents and go to corporate companies to seek sponsorship for these talents, without demanding for money. They could request that these talents be made brand ambassadors for those companies, with training contracts attached. All the foreign companies in Nigeria making billions of naira should be coaxed to sponsor Nigerian sportsmen that have the potentials to compete internationally if they get trained in first class facilities. For instance, a company can pick someone from table tennis and take that person under their wings by endorsing him or her to get the best of trainings abroad. There is no sport in Nigeria that you cannot have one or two talents.
A good example was when Segun Odegbami spotted potentials in Chioma Ajunwa that he sought for sponsorship for her. Mr. Odegami was the one who used his influence to secure sponsorship for her, and she was able to train aboard in preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Mrs. Ajunwa eventually won gold medal in long jump with a record 7.12, in an event dominated by Americans and Russians. To win gold in any sport in Olympics means you’re the best in the world.
...Exploitable Opportunities In Sports Administration.
There are always opportunities that sports administrators can exploit positively. It is just that Nigerian administrators are so lazy and we don’t understand the power of positions. As a sport minister, if you play your card very well, you can get into all these international sports associations and you get money for life. Once you are there as a member, there are certain things accrue to you financially. You attend meetings, monitor local and international competitions, and you are paid allowances. Although it may not be salary, but such allowances that is paid in foreign currencies is a lot of money when converted to local currency.
Our sports administrators just need to understand that the position they have can be used to develop sports in the country and also used to benefit themselves without stealing any money. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders just look at the immediate opportunities; they don’t look into the future.
Being a member of those international associations, you will enjoy free business class tickets whenever you travel, stay in five star hotels, enjoy free transportation during your stay, and you also get paid for the number of days you are on assignment.
Tell us about your journey into sport journalism and the experience so far.
My life has always been about sport journalism. I started right from when I was in school. May God bless the soul of late Ayo Oshitelu, the then Sport Editor of Punch Newspapers. I went to Punch to do my industrial training, and Mr. Oshitelu asked if I would love to cover sport in my spare time because the Ibadan correspondent of the newspaper was not a sport journalist. Since I love football, I agreed and that was how I started. That was the time of clubs like Water Corporation, Leventis United, Shooting Stars, Rangers, El-kanemi Warriors, etc. Then, the Nigerian football scene was hot. All the local teams were hot. A lot of the teams were always coming to Ibadan to play.
After my industrial training, I went back to school to finish my degree programme. Then the National Youth Service Corps posted me to Edo State, but I redeployed back to Lagos with the help of Punch Newspapers so that I could continue my love for sport journalism. That was around 1985/86. Immediately after my service year, Punch offered me a job as an Assistant Sport Editor. Paul Bassey was the Group Sport Editor then, while Mr. Oshitelu was given the position of Editor of the Sunday publications of the Newspapers.
I left Punch for Champion Newspapers when it came on board. Then, Champion Newspapers was the doyen of newspapers in terms of sport coverage. From there I moved to Today Sport to become the Deputy Editor-in-Chief before relocating abroad.
I was once the Media Representative of the Table Tennis Association of Nigeria under Vincent Maduka, the Chairman of Coscharis Group; and I served in various committees. I was also the Vice Chairman of the Lagos Sport Writers’ Association of Nigeria (SWAN) before becoming the National Assistant Secretary of SWAN. In 2006, I won the Best Sport Columnist Award of SWAN. I have covered the Olympics and the World Cups. I have been to two World Cups; 2002 Korea-Japan and 2006 Germany. I covered the Athens Olympics in 2004 and I have covered several Nations Cups.