Goodbye 2017, Hope For A Miracle In 2018 By Segun Odegbami

As dusk sets on another year, it is time once again for us to perform our annual ritual of looking back and then peering ahead. In looking back at 2017, what we see is Nigerian sports on a roller coaster heading to an undefined destination.

Simply put, administration, as has always been the case, has not managed to match plan with potential in sports development.

In 2017, there was, again, no grand plan to harness the huge amount of abundant natural talent that the whole world knows exists in this mass of Black humanity.

What is noticeable about the year is an emerging trend, a subtle change in strategy, of identifying good athletes to represent the country in international competitions from the fairly large pool of Nigerian youngsters born or living overseas.

This group, honed in the more advanced sports cultures abroad, has helped to shore up the talent base and reinforced the quality of representation in several national sports teams. This has been mostly noticeable in athletics, basketball and football.

This newly adopted strategy makes a big statement about the state of domestic sports development within the country itself – very slow, or non-existent in most sports.

So, in 2017, we can categorically state that there was no remedy still for the absence of an authentic domestic sports development plan in the country. There is no functional policy, no good infrastructure and facilities, little personnel capacity development and definitely no grand plan.

The other day, I was looking at a document prepared by the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) in 2003, for a 10-year sports development programme in Nigeria using the Australian model but anchored to the Nigeria Institute for Sports (NIS).

That plan was actually presented to, and approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) under former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

Implementation kicked off but was quickly buried in the storm of a change in government. The appointed members of a new governing Council of the NIS and new leadership of the NSC did not have the original vision, the enthusiasm, the passion and even the knowledge to sustain the implementation of that grand idea whose rewards and products lay in the distant future and could not be ‘seen’ immediately.

The plan was eventually ditched and now rests forgotten somewhere amongst several other similar archival materials of Nigerian sports.

It took a trip by President Obasanjo to Australia, and a visit by him to the Australian Institute of Sports for him to be apprised of what sports did for Australia that they could also do for Nigeria and its teeming youths. The ensuing enthusiasm birthed the approved but dumped 10-year Athletes Development plan.

The feeling amongst administrators at the time was that 10 years were a long time. To sustain the tempo for that length of time in this environment is impossible. Nigerians are impatient and never give allowance for germination and nurturing before cultivation. Things must be done now now and results must also be now now.

The fear is that no one survives that long in sports administration, and that they will not reap from what they have sown. Such is the myopia that drives sports development.

What cannot bear fruits immediately is not pursued. That’s why a coach must produce results immediately he is hired or he gets fired after the first major failure. That’s why Nigeria must win medals in the immediate next international competition or the administrator is counted as a failure. Achievement is tied to the medals rostrum.

That’s why also the short cut rules and fails down the line!

It has been 14 years since the Australian programme was approved. By now, if the country had been patient, had vigorously followed the plan, it would have become an advancing sports culture winning medals more consistently and steadily growing the sports industry.

In 1977, I was in China with the Green Eagles of Nigeria for an invitational tour. The national team visited the cities of Peking, Shanghai, Canton, and even Hong Kong.

China, of course, is an ancient civilisation with a long history dating back Centuries. But in 1977, I can testify, it was a Third World country in terms of economic, political and social advancement compared to the West.

It was a true communist enclave, relatively poor, overpopulated, remote and closed to the outside modern world. It welcomed very few tourists and visitors. Only very few cars plied its wide roads and boulevards filled everywhere with oceans of bicycle riders. There weren’t even coloured television sets in the modest homes the people lived in. The citizens wore the same set of ‘uniforms’ as clothing – white baggy shirts on grey baggy trousers.

The only Blacks in the whole of China according the information available were the Nigerian Ambassador, his family and few staff of the embassy. In all our travels in China, we did not encounter a single Black person!

Today, China is the probably second only to the USA as a global super power in virtually all fields. There are probably more Nigerians migrating to China than anywhere else in the world. There is a bulging Black population in China and Chinese cities have become some of the fastest urban developments in the world today!

All of this in less than 40 years!

The case of Brazil brings the matter even closer home.

When the Green Eagles also spent three months in Brazil in 1979, that country was very much like Nigeria, a young fledging emerging Third World democracy.

In fact, Brazil had a thriving Black population mostly of Nigerians of Yoruba extraction in the Bahia region where we went to play one friendly match. The country was very much like Nigeria rich in mineral resources and eager to improve the level of national infrastructural development.

The foundations of the first underground train system were just being laid in Rio De Janeiro at the time just as a similar project was sprouting in Lagos under the Lateef Jakande government.

The metro line system was a 25-year development projection. It looked like an eternity at the time. But only myopic self-serving administrators would think that way.

That was some 38 years ago. The metro line system in the city of Rio is working today and has moved the city into the 21st Century.

Whereas, the Lagos Metro-line system is just taking off now again after over 30 years in comatose, crippled by national politics, locked up in a drawer gathering dust and waiting for a national leader that can see beyond the mist of politics, and see that even eternity is NOW!

Whilst several countries have moved up the sports development ladder since the 1970s, Nigeria has remained in a warp!

The 10-year Athletes Development Plan designed by the AIS is dead. The NIS is a living dead institution. Nothing has happened. No meaningful sports development has taken place. No new plan is even in place!

That’s why the option of fishing for athletes to represent the country from the pool of Nigerians living abroad and honed in the advanced cultures of sports overseas has become attractive. It is the new short cut.

It is working in Basketball, in some Track and Field events, and particularly in football. Unfortunately, this pool of talent is still limited compared to the huge millions and millions of young Nigerian boys and girls in or out of schools waiting to be discovered, plucked, engaged and trained to become the best they can be all over the country.

In 2017 table tennis is one sport that has done fairly well through the effort of a few administrators with commitment to the relatively inexpensive community-driven sport.

There is wrestling also doing well and producing a pool of new local talents.

What is clear at the end of 2017 is that sports are still not appreciated by most States and the Federal Government as an important tool for national development beyond their periodic entertainment value.

As the country enters 2018, we hope that a ‘miracle’ will happen to change this mentality and attitude. That’s the only way some of us in the industry that keep our sanity in this clime.

Basketball And Football – In The Woods By Segun Odegbami

There have been two very significant developments in Nigerian sports this past week. The first is that November 30, 2017 came and went and the world did not end! The second is that Nigeria escaped by a hair’s breadth what would have definitely become the worst possible scandal in the country’s football history. Let us take a look at the first situation.

The impression was given that if nothing were done by November 30 to resolve the crisis in the basketball federation in favour of the position of the National Sports Commission and the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) that openly supported one faction of the two feuding boards of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) the country would be banned from international basketball.

So, from August to November 30, everyone was walking on tinder wood. The government-supported faction took control of the country’s basketball and acted as if the three months would not come to an end. Somehow they acted as if they would continue to rule even if the issues that created the crisis were not resolved because, typically, no one takes on government and wins.

But not so this time. The matter was not resolved. The other faction that was more in control of the major stakeholders (the clubs), determined to follow the matter through to a logical and legal conclusion based on the fundamental principle that sports federations are independent private bodies that must not be directly influenced by third parties (including government), stood their ground and waited patiently.The NOC, saddled by FIBA with the responsibility to intervene and resolve the matter, could not do so successfully because they had been complicit in the matter from the start and could not now become neutral arbiters. What followed was ‘the silence of the graveyard’. A very small matter became a monster.

This week FIBA returned in the form of a letter to the federation. The international body would send a three-man delegation to the country to conduct their own findings and report back to it by March 10, 2018. The initial administrative mandate was extended.The facts of the matter have been so simple and straightforward that I am amazed an entire NOC, custodians of the ethics of sports, and a body whose mantra is conflict resolution and promotion of peace could not observe the simple fair play rule and resolve the matter amicably.

The reason for their failure is simple: They took sides and got involved in the internal affair of a federation, an anathema to the Olympic charter. Now, the matter has been taken off the hands of Nigeria. It will be determined by FIBA and everyone would have to face the reality that the matter had been very simple all the time.
The two elections were pronounced flawed. New elections will be conducted using new guidelines that will be extracted from a constitution of the federation that shall be ratified by the general assembly of basketball stakeholders. It will not be the Ministry’s or NOC’s constitution.

A neutral person or institution shall supervise the new election with everybody eligible to contest freely and fairly participating without government’s direct interference.A new board leadership will emerge and this entire crisis will be over. This is what the NOC should have done very easily, but could not do for the reasons I have stated earlier.

Mark my words; by March 10, 2018 the present crisis shall ‘have a head’ as Nigerians would say when a seemingly knotty issue becomes very clear. The good thing about this whole development in basketball is its eventual impact on all other sports federations when this matter is finally settled.It will clear the air on several knotty issues, including the level of government involvement in the administration of federations, and the consequence of government’s direct involvement in the internal affairs of federations particularly where government funds international competitions!So, February is just around the corner. The country can afford to wait two more months for all this to be cleared, finally.

The NFF Near Miss
The second matter is a more serious one. Let me take us back a few decades. Nigeria did not go to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as a result of one slip, a player attempting to clear the ball with his head but, instead, the ball grazed the side of his head and was deflected away from his own goalkeeper into his own goal. 40 years after that slip Godwin Odiye’s name is now a synonym for a person that prevents his country from going to the World Cup!

Seven years ago, in South Africa, the Eagles needed a victory to get to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. There was only one meter between him and a yawning goal (the goalkeeper was already sprawling helplessly on the ground), when the ball was passed to him right in the middle of the goal. It was going to be the easiest goal ever scored and would have taken Nigeria to the second round. Then the unthinkable happened. Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s shin mis-hit the ball and it went back across the face of goal and out of play for what is considered one of the worst misses of the World Cup.

With that singular miss, Nigeria did not qualify for the second round. The price was Yakubu’s last match for the country. ‘Little’ things produce giant effects for good or for bad.Now this.

With one match to the end of the World Cup qualifying matches, Nigeria had qualified for the World Cup already. Then the Super Eagles went on to play their last match with an ineligible player who already had two yellow cards from previous matches. It was a simple rule.

FIFA came calling last week. Nigeria would forfeit the entire match and forfeit the three points for the match. Nigeria must be the luckiest country in the world going to the 2018 World Cup. At any other time in the history of Nigeria and qualifying for the World Cup, nail-biting experiences up till the last matches, Nigeria would have waved good-bye to their qualification!

The entire country would by now be wailing, livelihoods would have been lost, some lives may be lost, the economy would be badly hit, whole businesses that depend on this four yearly qualification ritual to sustain them, and the millions of Nigerians they would impact, would also have been lost. The country would have been put to global shame and careers would have been truncated that would affect generations to come.All of that as a result of a ‘little sin’, a moment of administrative laxity, ignorance, distraction or carelessness.

‘Little’ incidents had happened in the past with devastating effect on the country and repercussions for the football leadership. Somebody once forgot to carry the playing shorts of the team to a match.The match was held up for a long time and the federation had to improvise by cutting tracksuit bottoms to shorts.On two other occasions the country was banned from participation in grade age competitions because officials carelessly recorded different ages for the same players in competitions.There are a few other examples of such shameful laxities.

Whilst one is not advocating for any drastic action be taken against the leadership of the NFF, but for the association to give itself two weeks to investigate itself, is applying kid gloves to a very serious matter. Would these investigations have been called, and would the NFF have granted itself two weeks of a break had Nigeria suffered disqualification and failed to make the World Cup?

The matter should be treated as if Nigeria had missed going to the World Cup. It is as serious as that. That way it will be clear that the leadership is not looking for scapegoats to take the can for the failure of an entire federation!

In sports it is the ‘little’ things, the micro-seconds, the millimetres, the split seconds, the momentary state of mind, the slight distraction, the close shaves, the near misses, the instinctive actions, that make the ‘big’ difference between winning and losing matches, and between qualifying and not qualifying for a major competition.

Nigeria could very easily have been stranded now on the tarmac of qualification as a result of one person’s dereliction of duty, lack of proper supervision, ignorance, inexperience, or just a distraction from the little details.This is where an intervention should have happened at a higher level. Instead the silence from the government, from the National Sports Commission, has been deafening!

Super Eagles – The Black Man’s Burden, Responsibility And Hope By Segun Odegbami

I am not racist in any form or shape. There isn’t even an atom of it in my DNA.

Unfortunately, I also now understand clearly that as a black man I belong to a specie that has probably always been relegated by some deep-rooted cultural design to the lowest rung of the world’s systems.

After decades of varied personal experiences, including travelling the world and seeing how other races react to the black person, I have come to the rather unfortunate independent conclusion that the black person is not the most loved specie on earth. And that’s putting it mildly.

Looking through the archives of history the real situation would most likely be that he has never been considered at par with the rest of humanity. Think sincerely and shed your own tears!

In my limited experience also I have observed the futility, in a lot of ways, of his struggle to earn respect and to be treated as an equal by other races. His potentials have never been enough in win that struggle. Rather his best accomplishments and contributions (even in providing the essential manpower for the development of other cultures and civilisations) have been treated and credited in isolation, and have never rubbed off on the entire race, or even a geographical region.

So, no black country on earth has managed to shake off the subtle linkage between skin colour and their physical underdevelopment of the environment. For Nigeria, the country with the largest black population on earth, this is a huge burden to carry.

Even black Americans, with all their giant strides and contributions in building the most advanced civilization in the history of the world, they still carry a weighty load of the skin colour and their black African roots within their adopted country, the United States of America.

Of all human activities sports have proven to be the most level of all playing ‘fields’. They have, through the years and through struggles also, provided the greatest opportunities and platforms through which the mental yoke of inequality that can be thrown out the window.

Testing the limits of physical human capacity, skills and endurance destroys genetic divides and differences, and takes sports competition amongst all of mankind beyond the myopic limits of superficial superiority.

Competition, therefore, in the presence of the largest global audience between persons carrying the independent banners of their countries defined only by physical geography, provides an excellent get-out-of jail card for the black person’s mental and physical yoke.

That’s what the FIFA World Cup and, to a lesser emotional extent, the Olympic games provide.

Sports are one veritable tool that the black person must explore and exploit for his emancipation. That’s why as the Super Eagles of Nigeria go to Russia next summer they carry on their shoulder not just the responsibility of one country, but of all blacks in the world.

Unfortunately, unofficially, the World Cup, with its global prestige, and its power to impact the human psyche, is a project that is not originally scripted for a black African country to win!

Before this past week, Nigeria (and Senegal, the second country from black Africa in the World Cup) would only have been just another country at the football fiesta expected to fill the quota of racial representation, add some colour and cultural spectacle to the event with their singing, drumming and dancing supporters in the terraces, provide easy points for the more ‘powerful’ football nations, and quietly disappear and be forgotten when the serious battles for the most coveted sports trophy on earth begin from the second round.

No, it has never been a serious consideration outside Africa that a black African country will win the World Cup. Never! That has always been the unscripted plot. And it was going to be so again in Russia next summer until this past week!

When it happened at the Olympic games in 1996 it was an accident that was taken and treated in isolation and quickly rested before it develops into a trend. Nigeria, naively, did not advance the impact of that monumental achievement beyond the euphoria of the Gold medal and use it, as Muhammed Ali did after the 1964 Olympics, to fight for human equality.

The West simply swallowed their pride and allowed Nigeria, the black man’s most powerful representative on earth, to return to his old ways of bad governments, endemic corruption, low-level development, endless internal political crisis, poverty mentality and materialistic propensities driven by adopted foreign standards, cultures and values.

Another opportunity now beckons. This time it comes in the aftermath of a simple friendly match.

This past week, Nigeria took on Argentina in what was expected to be a routine match, with Argentina giving Nigeria some lessons on the modern game of football. The world did not pay much attention until the news broke of the most unlikely of results, a deserved masterful display by the Africans, and the defeat of one of the teams being tipped to win the 2018 World Cup.

The result of that small match has ignited new tensions in the world of football. Suddenly, Nigeria is been scrutinized by the rest of the world. The country has been thrown into the deep end of a situation it was definitely unprepared for. The country must embrace the new challenge this will definitely thrust upon her and convert it to strength required to steer through the turbulence and rapids of the World Cup.

With that victory over Argentina Nigeria must wake up to the reality of the burden it carries, to the responsibility it has to much more than its 180 million people, and to the hope of all black people on earth. Winning the World Cup is not as remote as it has always been plotted to be. It may indeed be within touching distance.

Undoubtedly, winning the World Cup will be a most effective tool to advance the continuing struggle for the emancipation of the black person on earth.

For the Super Eagles, therefore, the 2018 World Cup is a burden, a responsibility and hope for the black race!

Qualifying For World Cup Will Be Difficult – Odegbami

Former Nigeria international Segun Odegbami says the Super Eagles must go through a difficult  World Cup qualification process to secure a spot at Russia 2018.

Sunday Oliseh’s men face Egypt in a make or break African Cup of Nations qualifier double-header before continuing their qualification process for the World Cup later in the year.

According to the former Eagles striker, the country does not possess the quality that can make the qualification process an easy task.

“Nigeria does not have the players,” Odegbami told the media. “Just a few are emerging that starts to give us hope. I think we might still qualify for Afcon.

“To qualify for the World Cup is going to be extremely difficult this time. And if we do, we will be very lucky. That is my own view.

“I think within the next three to four years then we might have a proper Super Eagles if we do things right. If we look into our domestic league, develop it properly, arrange for our players or support them so that they can go to the right environment, for training.

“Give them all the motivation they need, take care of them and