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An open letter to the sports minister



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DEAR Mr. Dalong,
I hope and trust you are in fine fettle. Let me seize this opportunity to congratulate you in your new position as the Minister of Youth and Sports.
The nation was nearly on standstill last Wednesday as all eyes were fixed on Aso Rock where you and 35 others were sworn in as ministers of the federal republic of Nigeria.
Expectations which has been sky high since the, since the new administration successfully wrested power in the April general elections have been shot to new heights  with the inauguration.
Naturally, much of the focus of the media has been on every other persons attached to various facets of the Nigerian polity other than yourself. With the colossal decadence in the standard of living of  this should be understandable.
But mind you sir, it is not going to be like this forever. The personalities assigned portfolios such as petroleum, power, works, housing, finance, foreign, transport, etc may be the ones drowning in the deluge of attention now, because of the parlous state of the Nigerian economy  while you barely got a mention, but the situation could take a dramatic turn in a few months time if you can turn around the fortune of sports in Nigeria.
No nation can progress without adequate power, transport and new strides in the education and health matters but astute administration of sports in has been exploited to international greatness by carious countries all over the world.
The South American country of Brazil first gained global consciousness by virtue of of her prowess in football before recently joining the best economies in the world.
The United States of America is reputed to have the largest economy in the world. The county has excelled in virtually every facet of human endeavours. The Americans even engaged the defunct Soviet Union on space superiority and have numerous ground breaking inventions that have better humanity to their names but have never looked down on the possibilities in sports.
Their prowess in football fondly referred to as soccer in that country pales in significance compared to that of many others but they are ready to turn every stone to join the exclusive few that have won the World Cup.
Sports, often looked down in this shores,  contributes roughly $14.3 billion dollars in earnings annually to the American economy—and that’s no even counting the Niagara of indirect economic activity generated by the Super Bowl(reputed for being the second foodiest day in the country, behind the Thanksgiving). The industry also contributes 2,456,000 jobs with an average salary of $39,000 per job.
Though skepticism continue to trail by the day the ability of President Buhari’s regime to foist a lasting change on the polity, but it was the crest that his party, the APC rode to power.
Mr. Lalong, your name I can assure you will be written in gold occupying a comfy corner in the annals of this nation.
However, that will largely depend on how you are able to steer clear of the pitfalls that characterised the reigns of many of your predecessors.
Just like every facet of the Nigerian polity, sports administration is yearning for a change and believe me, it has the potentials to bridge the monumental hiatus in the employment of the youths of the country.
Many a sport minister before you, fell into the wrong notion that divesting all the resources of the ministry no football at the expense of other sports perceived as lesser is the best policy.
The consequence has been grave and dire.
While there is no denying the love all Nigerians for football but there is a grave danger in being a monolithic sports nation just as a nation we have come to grievous reality of an undiversified economy.
Nigerian football grabbed all the attention with the victory of the Golden Eaglets at the recently concluded FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile. The success of the Eaglets is the fifth in the competition and while this proves their invincibility at the country at the global cadet category, it thus therefore increased the propensity of making the country a laughing stock of the massive football fraternity.
There is simply no logic in a country so consistently commanding at that level and not being able to translate such success to her senior sides.
The Super Eagles disjointed performance against Swaziland in one of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers over the weekend provides an explicit attestation to the sweeping degradation pervading the game in the country now.
It is extremely difficult to juxtapose the Super Eagles side of the 1990s that bestrode the continent to a large and the global version to a lesser extent like a colossus and the current side and not feel that there are some genetic mutilations somewhere.
Yet, the country still boast of an enviable depth of talents. Every nook and cranny of the country is brimming with undeniable talents begging to be discovered and nurtured.
Venues of matches of the local leagues are deserted and desolate whilst millions of viewing centres across the country for those who cannot afford the atrocious cost of cable television overflow with fans.
Watching football clubs a world away has become the only viable means these fans clad in the kits of these foreign clubs  can dissipate their passion for the game  and forget their insipid performances of the Super Eagles.
It can only be imagined the benefits that will accrue to the economy if the local league can be properly organised with Nigerian clubs attaining national and continental brands status. For that to become reality, ownership and running of a club must be given new meaning.
When this is achieved, our young players who have made us proud at the global cadet tournaments will have a solid platform to horn their skills and properly evolve to some of the world’s biggest stars.
No doubt, football is the world most popular sport but it only offers a gold medal at big international competitions like the Olympics and All Africa Games. Meanwhile, a sport like table tennis is an outlet to 8 gold medals.
Nigeria until recently had a total firm grip on African table tennis. Though, the country sporadically transfered her dominance to the Commonwealth Games, she had no rival in the Africa landscape. However, that has become history. The country was left to scamper with some others for the silver and bronze medals at the recent AAG in Brazzaville, Congo with Egypt now firmly ensconced as the continent’s undisputed numero uno.
Nigeria’s setback in the game isn’t entirely  due to a sudden dearth of talents, but has come about because of a rapid depletion of competitions on the calendar of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, NTTF.
With only a few months to end of 2015, the NTTF have hardly held any competition aside participating in the AAG. This is in stark difference to the situation two decades ago where the federation’s hierarchy would be having a torrid time sifting through countless proposals from various corporate organisations and individuals for spots on their calendar for competitions.
MR. Damlong, how can sanity be restored to this once vibrant sports?
D’Tigers, yes, that is the name of the Nigeria’s men basketball team. They gladdened the hearts of millions of the country’s basketball enthusiasts by becoming champions of Africa in August.
The question is why did it take a country brimming with talents such as Nigeria nearly a a century to achieve a fraction of what Angola have consistently done in the biennial competition.
Hakeem Olajuwon remains the country’s biggest prospect and one of the most respected players in the history of the sport. There have been numerous others like Emeka Okafor, Yinka Dare, Michael Olowokandi and so many others. These mercurial players were lost to other countries because of Nigeria’s dismal history with dealing with her best talents.
The local league is in need of proper attention and when its well taken care of it could be a conveyer belt for production of some of the games finest players.
Mr. Dalong, the best players in the NBA don’t just earn a wage, they are paid a fortune.
Another sport whose fortune has been on recline in the country is athletics. Nigeria was once revered in this sport by contributing great names such Modupe Oshunkoya, Godwin Obasogie, Dele Udoh, Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egunike, Olopade Adeniken, Fatimah Yusuf, Yusuf Alli, Henry Amike, Chioma Ajunwa, Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya,  Seun Ogunkoya and Olusoji Fasuba who holds the Africa’s 100m record.
These were great athletes who at various times made the country and indeed, Africa proud, but a lack of ingenuity in the administration of the sport has pushed the country into the backwaters of the sports.  Nigeria attends international competitions now putting all her expectations on the slim shoulder of Blessing Okagbare.
Every year, millions of dollars are earned on the ATP and WTA tours.
It is however saddening not to find one single citizen of the world most populous black nation competing for honours in this money spinning circuits.
Nduka Odizor was the last Nigerian to play in a grand slam and wait for it, that was close to four decades ago. Are we admitting that Nigeria cannot channel the energies and zeal of the country’s youngsters to this money spinning circuit and gain worldwide acclaim as was the case during the golden era of Nigeria table tennis when players like David Imonite, Godwin Kienka, Sadiq  Abdulahi, Rremi Osho, Romanus Nwazu and other ranked reasonably in the world?
There was a time when young Nigerians with pride sought and had glittering careers in sports such as volleyball, handball, hockey, judo, taekwondo and so many more, but they are now moribund in the country. These sports only return to life at the sight of an international engagements and naturally, the athletes feeble efforts are easily thwarted.
At its peak, Nigerian sports had revolutionary administrators such as Isaac Akioye, Brigadier Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, Brai Ayonote and others. These ebullient men worked selflessly to achieve their vision for Nigerian sports.
Today we remember these great men not because they once occupied exalted offices but  for being different from the others.
Mr. Dalong, you are faced with a daunting task to overturn the rot and stagnancy in Nigerian sport. You have two choices.
Either to just occupy the office like many of you recent predecessors whose only legacies are the pictures hung on the walls at the ministry and seen only by the who have the privilege of visiting the edifice or work diligently as the aforementioned administrators whose names are cast in gold.
The first option would make your time in office easy and pleasurable while the second, which is not for the lily livered is the only path taken by the greats.
Which is your preference?

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