NIGERIA WASTES BILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON SPORTS – NGEREM
Maverick sports administrator and former President of Athletics Federation Nigeria (AFN), Dan Ngerem, has decried what he described as the flagrant waste of billions of dollars by the nation's sports administrators over the years without proper planning on how to harness the potentials of the athletes that abound in the country.
The Imo State-born sports philanthropist reputed for robust comments on sports issues in the country said except the nation embraces the culture of planning and accountability, Nigerian sports would never make the desired impression at international sporting events despite the huge amount of money invested in sports by the government.
Although he admitted that Nigeria has recorded some 'punctuated successes' at international competitions, he, however, dismissed the purported four gold medals target given to the Nigerian contingent at next year's Olympics in London, describing it as not only 'a mere wishful thinking, but a tall order'.
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Sunsports at his palatial office in Victoria Island, Lagos, vintage Ngerem spoke on a wide range of issues bordering on the nation's sports.
State of Nigerian sports
'Nobody who loves this country would be comfortable with the state of our sports at the moment. We've made some punctuated successes here and there, but it's nowhere near our potentials or the amount of money that we're spending on sports. We've spent billions of Naira without holding anybody accountable for it. No objectives, no parameter for success, no accountability. In the last twenty years we've not accounted for anything in sports. From Nigeria '99 (FIFA World Youth Championship), to COJA 2003 (All Africa Games) to last year's FIFA U-17 World Cup, I haven't seen any account. It's a regrettable situation and leaves much to be desired.
Funding of sports in Nigeria/Accountability
'It's not that the private sector is doing little or nothing about funding sports. Check the historical antecedent. I think what is happening in Nigeria is that a few people who are bent on manipulating the government system in the last two decades have held us hostage as it were, for the simple reason that you don't account for government money. When I came in as President of Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN), it was one of the things that challenged my mind and intellect. And together with a few people we put together the concept of TEAM Nigeria.
Why TEAM Nigeria concept died
'The question Nigerians should be asking is 'what happened to the TEAM Nigeria concept?' It was very successful when it was initially accepted. Remember MTN gave money for Nigeria Institute for Sports/Australia Institute of Sports Corporation. There were a lot of donations from companies for competition of various sports. We recommended that a private sector person should be the chairman of the board. But once money started rolling in the then Sports Minister assumed the chairmanship position of the TEAM Nigeria. And up till today, no account has been presented for that initial TEAM Nigeria project. What I think is happening is orchestrated confusion. It is not that people don't know what to do. You must account for private sector money. If I give you money, I'll set objectives and parameters for you. And to all intents and purposes, I'll ask for a detailed account to the last kobo. So I think that's what those who are managing our sports are afraid of. So all they do is just wait for government money because the history is there that nobody accounts for it. So how you use it does not matter.
'The way forward is very simple. If you are going to spend money, set objectives and parameters of success. So if the man fails, you fire him. It's that simple! But we're not going to do it simply because government money is not accounted for. And if you wait for it under a scenario of fire brigade approach, what I call the shotgun approach, it's even better, because things you ought to buy at one Naira, you'll be buying it at N1000.00 and nobody raises an eyelid. They would tell you that money was released late so there's nothing we can do about it. What is our policy framework on the prosecution of the Olympics? The answer is zero. Is there a plan for the 2012 Olympics? No plan! We've just finished the Commonwealth Games, was there a plan?
'So if we can put a modicum of a plan right now, say for example, all athletes in Class A representing this country, would get $1000 every other month, that is a plan. So that if you're not in Plan A, we drop you, may be to Plan B, where you get like $500 every other month. And then if you win an Olympic bronze medal, we give you $5,000, silver, may be $7,500, gold $15,000. That is a plan. You don't leave it to the whims and caprices of anybody that comes up.
Take for instance what happened in the last couple of months. There was a Presidential Task Force that raised money for football only. Recently, just after the Super Falcons won the Africa Women's Championship in South Africa, there was talk about setting up another Presidential Task Force to raise money for the Falcons to prosecute the World Cup. Which country plans like that? In all these suggestions, there's nowhere for the private sector to get involved. Nigerians should have the courage to question why. In an era sports is big business, where people are paying millions of dollars for events.
Sports Marketing rights
'I'm involved in CAF Marketing rights for Nigeria only. In 2004 it was $1million. The last CAF Television/Radio Rights shown in Nigeria was 3million Euros, about $5million. And I am involved. I'm part of the consortium bringing that broadcast to Nigeria. That's big business! Why should Nigeria's own be different? No accountability, no plan, no policy framework. All we have is an atmosphere for confusion.
Why Government should not hands off sports
'There's no way government could hands off sports. Sport is an instrument of foreign policy. Sport is a unifying factor that the government could use to bring the country together. It's an instrument you can use to leverage on your culture and tourism. Sport is a total weapon people are using all over the world. Look at the London bid for the World Cup in 2018. Sepp Blatter was invited to No. 10, Downing Street. I can use my own widow's mite as an example. When Nigeria was being bastardized all over the world because of the Miss World Fiasco, immediately I called the then President, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to come and flag off the Glo Half Marathon in Lagos. And before you knew it there was a counterbalance of positive news on CNN, SKY, BBC and other international media in over 200 countries across the world because the Lagos Glo Half Marathon was shown in all those countries. So you could see the counterweight. No government that means well for its people will completely hands off sports.
Sports as big business
'What we're saying in effect is that sport is big business. Why is it that it is only in Nigeria that we wait for the last minute for only the government to prosecute the event? Two years to London 2012 Olympics, where is the plan for Nigeria's participation? Where's the marketing document? Where is the TEAM Nigeria concept? And do not forget that the last chairman of TEAM Nigeria was Chief Molade Okoya Thomas, a respected philanthropist, a respected captain of industry. He resigned publicly and called the Sports Ministry borderline fraudulent administration. Has anything been done about it? So if you were a private practitioner, leaving in Nigeria or in diaspora, would you want to put money in an atmosphere of confusion? Would you want to put money where nobody would account for it? Like I said it is orchestrated confusion. We know the right thing to do. Simply give the people running our sports objectives and parameters for success and anchor it on athletes' welfare. And let them present a budget that is public. Like the London 2012 Olympics, two years to the event, there's nothing. Once it's two months to go, you would hear that billions has been voted for the event and people would be chartering aircrafts, doing all sorts of things only for the athletes to get desperate and perhaps resort to performance enhancing substances just like the egg on our faces in our punctuated successes at the last Commonwealth Games in India. It has got to stop. If we must spend those billions, we must ask for something. What are the parameters for performance? Who is measuring them? And if they fail, fire them and bring other Nigerians to continue.
Expectation from Nigerian athletes at the 2012 Olympics
'I was in the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and I know that the committee does not have enough money. They don't have the marketing arm, no substantial amount of money like the Commonwealth Games Association of South Africa that has millions of dollars. Our own NOC is practically penniless. So I don't know the basis for setting four gold medals target for Nigerian contingent to the 2012 Olympics. Whoever made the pronouncement must put it in contest. Did they make it with the chairman National Sports Commission? I don't think so. Perhaps it's a wish. If wishes were horses, everybody would ride one. To me, the four gold medals target is a tall order two years to the event. Normally, it takes six years to prepare an Olympic athlete. May be four. We have two years to go and we don't have any plan and we want four gold medals. I need to see the fundamental analysis of what they are predicating their confidence on. But if you ask me realistically, I think nothing has changed'.