NIGERIA MUST PLAY SPORTS POLITICS FOR SURVIVAL - GUMEL
Engineer Habu Gumel is a household name in the Nigerian sports family, but it was not easy in any way to track down the former president of Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) for an interview. With appointments running into weeks and months, the head of many continental and international sports associations finally bowed to pressures from Saturday Sunsports to grant this interview in Abuja recently.
He did not, however, disappoint while discussing salient issues on Nigerian sports, his journey to continental and international prominence and the scheme that ended his several years of headship at the NOC. He also spoke on the free fall of Nigerian football teams and lamented the country's failure to pick any of the football tickets for the 2012 London Olympic Games. He also commented on how he has been combining his engineering profession with administering sports.
Gumel specifically argued that even though nobody schemed him out of his NOC presidential seat, he has, however, reconciled with the incumbent President, Alhaji Sani Ndanusa, who he calls his brother and friend.
Disclosing that this was the first official interview he had granted any media since he lost the NOC seat, the astute sports administrator maintained that he was not missing anything leaving the seat in controversial circumstances. Excerpts.
Gains in hosting Olympic beach volleyball qualifiers
Hosting the Olympic beach volleyball qualifiers was very important to the country, to the volleyball family and the African continent in general. I was impressed that the Nigerian male team did us proud. They qualified in the first round in Benin Republic, qualified for the second stage in Ghana and did very well in the country to qualify for the final stage in South Africa. But it is the final clash in South Africa that will determine who picks the ticket to the London Games.
If Nigeria fails…
Considering how our male team has fared in the qualifiers, I don't have any fear. We will have enough pre-tournament training to ensure we pick one of the two tickets in South Africa. We will have challenges because there are many good teams in Africa that also want to qualifier, but I believe that we will scale through.
The good thing is that beach volleyball has come to stay in Africa and all over the world. People like the game and they enjoy watching it. I believe that with the number of beaches and talented people we have in the country, we need to encourage the game to grow in the land.
Involvement in international sports politics
It's true and equally good that I'm involved in the international scene, because a country would have a sense of belonging if it has a representative on the international stage. That's why I campaign that Nigeria should encourage more of her citizens to join the continental and international sports bodies.
Currently, we have about five or six Nigerians in the continental and international bodies, but I think that we need more Nigerians in such bodies considering our population.
I'm happy to be part of the continental and international bodies as well as a member of NOC. It is good for the country, Africa and for me, as an individual.
Lost NOC headship, but conquered the world
Before I voluntarily pulled out of the NOC as the president, I was a member of the Confederation of African Volleyball and a member of International Volleyball Federation. I have to admit that becoming the president of NOC gave me an edge to get elected into Copenhagen, Denmark, as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) representing Nigeria and Africa. I'm happy and sure that Nigerians are happy with my position.
Regrets missing NOC headship
Honestly, I'm not missing anything because I'm still a board member of NOC. We interact and discuss with the executive members of the committee. I also attend the board meetings. Don't forget that by virtue of my position as a member of IOC, I'm a member of the board of the NOC. So, I'm still there body and soul making my contributions to move the body forward.
We should not also forget that I'm a member of the Nigerian Volleyball Federation among other bodies. So, I still work hand in hand with the NOC.
Schemed out of NOC president seat
Let me put it straight, nobody schemed me out of NOC. I stepped aside on my own volition. I did not contest the election and there was no ill feeling when I decided to leave the seat. I met mind with my brother and colleague, the incumbent president Engineer Sani Ndanusa before I stepped aside and we still meet and interact together.
In sports politics, it is normal to disagree and agree without fighting. We had a little disagreement then, but we reconciled everything to develop sports in the country. It's the media that create problems most times.
Nigeria missing London 2012 football event
I feel very unhappy because I would have loved to watch Nigerian teams play while in London. Everybody wants to watch Nigerian teams play, but we were unfortunate, it has become a mission impossible. We have to wake up to the realities.
It's unfortunate, but I believe that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) will make amends. The president of the federation has made several statements on the way forward, so let us see how far the body could go. All I'm assuring the federation is that we will give them all the necessary support and motivation they need to excel.
Nigeria and international football politics
It is always good and very important for any country to have somebody at the international sporting level. It helps because there're a lot of politics involved in the game. I want to believe that the situation will gradually change with time, but we must learn to encourage and give anybody aspiring to be there all the necessary support.
We have many people who can make impart at the continental and international levels. We must learn how to solicit for the support of other countries, which can help us to be there. I want to believe that government and individuals were doing a lot to ensure that many people break into the international arena.
I'm optimistic that our number will soon increase in both areas. It is surprising that Egypt has 11 confederation bodies when we can only boast of one or two like the Commonwealth Handball and the Headquarters of the National Olympic Committee for Africa (ANOCA). We must fight to bring more confederation headquarters in Nigeria like they are in Egypt. We can do it and there are promising signs.
Gap between football and other sports in Nigeria
It goes beyond bridging the gap between football and other sports. Football is undoubtedly a very popular game more than any other sports. Don't forget the fact that Nigerians and Africans love football with passion. Again, government has always tried to pump in more money into football than other sports. Many of the federations have cried to no end over this development.
I believe there is need for adjustment, not only from government, but also from the private sector. Many of the private sectors support football because you cannot beat the passion associated with the game. All we have been asking for is to bridge the ratio from the government and other sectors to make sure other sports excel.
In Olympic Games, it is not only football that brings medals, there're so many other sports like volleyball, athletics, weightlifting, wrestling, judo etc. These sports surely need monetary support. Government cannot do it alone because it has many other responsibilities. So, let there be an appreciable ratio between the amount given to football and other sports. We need them and they must develop at the same ratio.
We cannot abandon football or any other sports. We must give all equal support. The NFF is like a parastatal of the government, while others are lumped together. It should not be so. Supporting sports is like a glory and advertisement to the private sectors and they should appreciate that.
Dreams for Nigerian sports
My dream is for us to excel everywhere we go. We must make our country very proud. We are giants in many sports though we need to improve ourselves to excel.
Combining engineering profession with sports administration
I'm still a professional engineer. I was a member of the NOC in 2000/01 as well as the president of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) for six year. I have contributed and still contributing to my primary profession by attending meetings and conferences of engineers just as I attend sports conferences.
I'm an engineer and a sportsman rolled in one body. I have been operating in both areas for a long time now and I have never complained. I do all it takes to contribute my quota in the development of the two fields of human endeavours.