Something new, something different needed!
Posted: Sep 02, 2012
A few days ago I returned from my football 'odyssey' in the USA. Right from the airport the atmosphere was pregnant with lamentation. Nigeria had just returned from a barren summer Olympics and the people were very displeased with the poor and almost humiliating results.
Unfortunately, this is not a new song, it has been sung before through periods that were even slightly better than now. At least at previous games the country came back with something, a medal of some colour.
So, the Nigerian airwaves are now saturated with the frustration of the people in the area of sport that they think does not require rocket science to conquer, just the application of some common sense! After all it is this same narrow understanding that makes successive governments not think twice about appointing just about anybody to handle sports in the country. Yet it is also true that succeeding in sports requires the application of very simple principles. So, why have we failed so badly?
The London Olympics have served, once again, to expose the depth of devastation that the sector has suffered. I will not run through the list of disturbing facts and statistics. Suffice it to give a few examples.
We have been told that the entire country has only one stadium facility good enough to host Super Eagles international football matches. That's why, these days, the Esuene Stadium in Calabar has become the place of choice for the national team players coming from abroad. It is truly the only stadium in Nigeria today worthy of hosting the senior national football team matches., specifically because of its flat, grassy turf. Yet the turf of this courted bride of Nigerian footballers is not as good as any of the 35 standard football pitches on the campus of the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom! I am not exaggerating. I counted them one by one!
Whilst it is ironic that even when the members of the Super Eagles and their coaches are complaining about the unsuitability of most grounds all over Nigeria as a result of their conversion to artificial surfaces, the Federal Government, we hear, is considering converting the very poor grass turf of the dilapidated National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, to an artificial one. I ask: would the installation of artificial turf now make the stadium suitable for football matches at the highest level? No! That's why the Super Eagles are refusing these days to play on any one of the exploding number of such grounds in the country irrespective of how beautiful they may look to the eyes and to television.
I have always believed that the use of artificial turf is a massive international racket 'sold' to Third World countries with the active connivance of local administrators by a few powerful people within FIFA with interest in the artificial turf business. I am surprised that FIFA does not appreciate the grave danger this is doing to the football of developing countries. Why have the advanced cultures of football not converted to artificial turf? Therein lies the answer. Why has research continued around the Manchester City grounds in the UK on the improvement of grass pitches and not rubber turf as we have littering the whole of Nigeria now? Rubber can never replace the feel and comfort of good, flat lush grass!
That's why when Arsenal were to visit this summer for a friendly match in Nigeria, they insisted and volunteered to fix the damaged grass of the Abuja stadium rather than expose their expensive players to the dangers and limitations of playing on the artificial turf of Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos when it was offered to them as an alternative!
That is a little about football. The other sports have fared no better. Take basketball that is gathering a lot of national interest and international attention these days. There are very few facilities in the entire country. Even the single indoor court of the National Stadium, Lagos, the busiest in the entire country, does not meet the standard of an average secondary school in the United States (and I am also not exaggerating).
A good gymnasium is a critically important part of the overall physical development of athletes.
Whilst in the USA, I took the young football academicals of Oyo State to see the sports facilities of Clemson University, including their gymnasium. At the end of our visit we all agreed that in terms of quantum and quality, Nigeria still has miles to go to meet the standard of what we saw in the university!
It is a similar situation as we go from sport to sport - a long boring tale of lack - lack of equipment, lack of basic infrastructure, lack of personnel, lack of facilities, lack of this, lack of that, lack of everything except the raw, gifted but wasting young sports talent!
The country's sports are wallowing in poor quality and quantity of everything. The long and short of what I am saying, the damning conclusion, is that Nigeria, today, does not have the tools to produce quality athletes in all sports! The London Olympics and, indeed all the Olympics before it, confirm this. Our token victories at previous Olympics have largely been a product of external grooming and training, with the United States being the greatest source! Whereas Europe has helped with developing Nigerian football through the exposure of its young talents to professional football, with the giant strides in coaching; athletics, basketball and tennis have been largely influenced by colleges in the United States of America!
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