Former Super Eagles coach Adegboye Onigbinde talks to IDRIS ADESINA about the country’s sports sector after 58 years of Independence and the way forward in this interview
Nigeria got Independence in 1960. What is your opinion on Nigerian sports since Independence?
The Nigerian sports sector has not grown since Independence. This is because we have not been building it – and what you don’t build cannot grow. The country is currently where it is because there has not been a conscious effort to develop things and sports can’t be in isolation. It is a part of a system, which has not been working effectively.
We have been participating in competitions and winning medals. We have won gold at the Olympics, won AFCON thrice and the U-17 World Cup five times. What’s your comment?
These are flashes of success and we did not come about them because we carefully planned to achieve them. If we had planned well, we should be reaping from the fruits today. An adage says when one fails to plan, he is planning to fail – that is what is happening with Nigerian sports. There is no particular planned framework that could be said to be responsible for the successes we recorded at those competitions.
We do well in a competition today and in the next edition, we will not be able to repeat such. In the past, we depended mainly on home-grown talents for competitions but since we have failed to plan adequately, we have recently been depending on foreign talents and those trained by other countries to do well at competitions – that won’t guarantee us success, it will only bring one-time success and after that we go back to what we used to be.
What do you think is responsible for a lack of planning in the sports sector?
Many things are responsible for that but I believe that sports cannot exist in isolation of other sectors of the country. Things work interchangeably and if sports sector is not working well, it means some other parts of the Nigerian system are not working as well. For instance in football, our clubs are not structured the way they should because they have been seen as tools for political offices. The clubs are not properly run. Our clubs have feeder teams but many of the players in these feeder teams are older than those in the main teams. The feeder teams should be made up of young players who can be drafted into the main team.
The country will perform well in age-grade competitions but in a few years that cannot be translated to success in the main team because the players would have gone into oblivion due to many reasons. They won’t be properly monitored and in their quest to seek for greener pastures, they move to any league where they can get some money.
What is the way forward?
A systematic planning of the sports sector that will cover every sport and ensure that talents are discovered, nurtured and maintained for them to perform at the best of their abilities. Although that cannot be done in isolation of some other sectors of the country’s economy, we need to have a structure to build on. That is why serious countries have a long-term plan for their sports. Sports have gone beyond preparing for competitions in a little time.
It is now a serious business where countries’ economies benefit largely from. If sports can be properly exploited in and invested in, Nigeria has the capacity to create a lot of employment opportunities.
For instance, in athletics, if there are professionally run clubs, with regular competitions in the country, apart from the talents being discovered, many athletes from various age-grades will earn a living while many other people such as coaches and people working on facilities will also have a means of livelihood – the same for football and many other sports.
We also need good facilities and trained personnel to manage the talent that the country has been blessed with. Nigeria’s problem in sports is not the absence talents but the proper nurturing of these talents to achieve international success.
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