SUPER EAGLES WOEFUL OUTING
By its very nature, sport has a cruel attitude to failure. It is not because winning is all that matters. Rather, it is because some sporting defeats are painful to watch and some performances are even worse to experience.
That, it must be said, aptly describes the woeful outing of Nigeria's senior football team, the Super Eagles at the ongoing World Cup in South Africa. The lacklustre performance of the Eagles resulted in the drastic decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to suspend the team from all international competitions, for two years.
With the decision, the football governing body, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is dissolved, an interim management board will be appointed in its place. A thorough audit of the funds estimated at about N1 billion reportedly spent on the country's contingent will be undertaken. Also, the contract of the Technical Adviser, Mr. Lars Lagerback, is over.
Government's decision, announced by presidential spokesman, Mr. Ima Niboro, also underlined the reasons for the action. It will, among other things, enable government put the nation's football house in order and 'work out a more meaningful way for Nigeria to engage in the global football stage'. Expectedly, the action has elicited intense reactions.
Incontrovertibly, the performance of the Super Eagles at the Mundial is by far the worst by Nigeria since 1994. The team could not go beyond the first round. It lost two group matches in quick succession against Argentina and Greece and drew with South Korea in its last match. The team came last in its group.
A dispassionate analysis of the team's performance at the biggest football stage reveals that it was just a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, it would have amounted to rewarding indolence had the Super Eagles progressed beyond the group stage.
Clearly, the performance of the team as a whole is a reflection of our inept football administration and, to some extent, the level of seriousness of the players themselves. We had, before the kick-off of the competition, raised some matters that needed urgent attention. These are issues that constitute serious obstacles to football success. They include maladministration of Football House and the sheer indiscipline of many of the players. Sadly, these are the same problems that caused Nigeria's failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and the abysmal outing of the national team in the Africa Cup of Nations held in Angola earlier this year.
With the team's ouster in South Africa, it seems that no lessons were learnt from its poor performance during the qualification stage and in the Africa Nations Cup, in which the team came third, over all. The same, if not worse mistakes, were repeated in South Africa.
While government's decision to suspend the team from all international competitions till 2012 seems harsh, especially with the prospect of further punitive action by the world football governing body, FIFA, our position is that the disgraceful performance of the Super Eagles should provide an opportunity for soul searching on the way forward for our football, and the kind of people entrusted with running its affairs.
Undoubtedly, the abysmal performance of the team is unacceptable to Nigerians who see football as one rallying point for unity. Something, therefore, need to be done urgently.
Government should use the failure of the team as a reason to look inwards to find a way to create future success. The first step should be to ask some gritty questions, such as: what are we doing wrong in our football administration? Did we have unrealistic expectations of the team in South Africa 2010? What then should be done? The answers to these questions will only be meaningful if government can use the next two years of inaction of the team to draw parallels, using the spur of failure to turn things round and create a run of sustained success in future.
We need a well-thought through blueprint on how to run football in Nigeria. A reorganization of NFF is imperative. The interim board that will oversee the affairs of NFF should borrow a leaf from Australia. Australia has become a reference point on how a country could turn around its sports fortunes. Having failed woefully in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 after sending 182 athleletes and spending huge funds with no single gold medal to show for it, Australia immediately set up an institute that created a model for future successes. The decision has been paying off since then.
Altogether, this is the time for proactive measures that will place emphasis on hardwork, adequate preparation and a right model for management of sport. For countries that excel in sports, the enduring lesson is that the end of each competition marks the beginning of preparation for a new one. Another World Cup beckons in Brazil in 2014. This is the time to get serious. Our domestic league should be given adequate attention. If we choose to learn from the failure in South Africa, it is not too late to begin to fix football in Nigeria. The time to begin preparations for Brazil 2014 is now.