The African Cup of Nations, Africa’s most prestigious football competition, has finally arrived the global stage of recognition.
The continent earned it in three weeks of a great football feast, putting on display the full array of African football – the power, physicality and speed of Sub-Saharan players, the technical skills and organised play of North Africans, the raw and unadulterated free spirit of the new teams from the deep-South, and energy, fighting spirit and endless running of the Central and East Africans.
It has been the best of African football in full colour. For the finals match tomorrow between Senegal and Egypt, there could not have been a better epilogue – Africa’s two best players, Egypt’s Salah, and Senegal’s Mane, leading their countries to an epic match to decide who takes away the trophy.
FIFA and some European Club managers that wanted the championship cancelled initially have eaten humble pie and are now enjoying champagne football of a different temperament
Now, they know better. African football has come of age. Through the players’ performances no one dares in future to raise questions about the quality of the African championship any more, and make an issue of players leaving their European teams to play in Africa. The spectacle will now be part of the global football diet every two years.
For Nigerians, it is ironic that the team that the Super Eagles defeated almost without breaking sweat at the start of the championship has become the most tactically competent team of the championship. They are looking more and more like champions with the real prospect of adding one more to their chest of trophies, extending their record as the most successful national team in the history of the African Cup of Nations.
I am wagering on Egypt to lift the trophy, in consolation that it could also have been Nigeria, were the gods not to have been ‘angry’.
I also predict that against Egypt, Mane will have his best game, but will not go home with the trophy.
One Federation, Two Presidents, New Crisis?
I truly do not want my fun this weekend dampened by talk of new and unhealthy developments in the Nigerian Basketball Federation, NBBF.
Last week, crisis in the federation reared their ugly head again. Riding on the wave of unfinished business from 2021, the elections into the board of the NBBF became another circus, with one election holding in Benin City with a FIBA official as witness, and another holding in Abuja without any witnesses.
Both groups are now waiting, like a VAR check during a football match, for the Sports Ministry to announce which of the two elections it will recognise. If government is barred from intervention as being touted…why expect them to do so now?
Meanwhile, the Ministry is torn between doing what is proper and just in its reckoning, or surrendering its powers to a federation that cannot have it.
The Ministry’s main responsibility should be bringing peace back to the entire family of sports, including the basketball federation, as its primary ‘interference’ in this conflict. Beyond that, it has a responsibility to the citizens and the government to deliver its statutory mandate and agenda to develop grassroots and elite sports, and supervise all sports to ensure that their activities are in conformity with policies and laws for sports in the country.
Several of these conflicts have defied resolution by past ministers and are a very irritating distraction for even the current sports minister.
Inadvertently, the ministry has been sucked into the crisis to such an extent that the public now thinks the ministry is the problem. Whereas, it has also become a pawn in the unrelenting political game being played by members, who want power and control over the resources available in three federations (Athletics, Basketball and Football), in particular.
Ideally, the ministry should have no business with the federations in their primary responsibilities to their members, in organising their programmes and competitions and sourcing for funds independently without accounting to anybody. But as soon as the issue of international competitions comes into play, the lines of separation of roles and responsibilities become a blur, and distortions of facts begin, driven by the lure of loose funds from government and other private sources.
The major international competitions are not the strict and direct responsibility of the Federations. I have said that too many times and very few agree with me and take it seriously, yet that’s how it was, is and will be, unless government chooses to surrender its responsibility of sports development in the country, a role enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution, to private federations.
Under a previous functional structure of sports in the country, those responsibilities were those of the technical arm of the Ministry, the National Sports Commission (NSC) and the National Institute for Sports (NIS) in collaboration with the Nigeria Olympic Committee.
In the absence of the NSC and the NIS, the ministry that does not naturally present an image of a technically savvy organisation, is compelled to deal with federations in an arrangement that creates the blur in fundamental roles and responsibilities. International competitions present the juiciest part of sport – the travels, the allowances, the contracts, the deals, etc….
This has become so attractive and ‘blinding’ that the president of a Federation actually said during an interview that his primary responsibility and attention is the national team of Nigeria, not running and developing the domestic programmes of his members.
That’s how bad the situation is – so much genuine ignorance.
The solution is clear. The Ministry should let the associations run their programmes and competitions for their members (local and international). There should be no recourse to the Sports Ministry for anything. They should secure their secretariats outside the facilities of the ministry (unless they pay for them), hire their staff and secretaries independently and run their business.
The ministry should then take up its proper role and face its proper responsibility of general sports development at the grassroots and elite levels, run the sports institutions that support these developments, construct and manage all federal government sports infrastructure, provide scholarships and grants for elite athletes, prepare Nigerian athletes for specific international games under the auspices of the Nigeria Olympic Committee and only invite the federations to the party under clear conditions and agreed written agreements.
All the above will be facilitated and accelerated with the immediate return of the NSC and the NIS.
The federations can then work more closely with the ministry and enjoy the attendant largesse only if they surrender some of their powers and subsume their constitution under the laws of Nigeria, and are ready to be partners with the Sports Ministry under some level of supervision.
The bad blood being generated over this intractable matter of elections must be ended now by all means. There are too many aggrieved persons around the federation than for one group to claim victory when there are clear breaches on all sides.
Sports And Diplomacy
The United States, United Kingdom and Canada have been protesting against China’s human rights abuses. The governments have withdrawn their officials from attending the games.
For effect, American athletes are not part of the withdrawal so that personal dreams are not sacrificed on the altar of politics. I will be surprised if the USA national anthem will be played when American athletes win.
I am watching out for that.
As I am writing this, it has been announced that India has also withdrawn its diplomats from participating at the Winter Games, but for a different reason. Their athletes are already at the games and shall participate.
These incidences are Diplomacy at the highest levels of sports. It is a ‘game’ between governments and the biggest international sports body in the world, one that is beyond and above the level of sports federations. At these levels, federations are subsumed by the NOCs and the Sports Ministries.
This is the stark reality.
At the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and the All Africa Games, particularly, governments and the national Olympic Committees are in absolute charge. They bring in national federations at their discretion.
Navigating this whole area has become the biggest challenge in the sports development architecture of Nigeria. Yet, it is simple and clear what needs to be done.
The failure to separate roles and responsibility is the main cause of friction between the Sports Ministry and national federations. Until this fine line is clearly defined and delineated there shall always be crisis in sports in Nigeria.