Former Nigeria Football Association and Athletics Federation of Nigeria board-member, Prince Isidore Oduah has called on sports administrators to wake up to their responsibilities of preparing the country’s sports men and women for international sports events. This is against the background of poor outings recorded by Nigerian athletes in recent years. In this chat with Ben Efe, he said that the victory recorded by the Golden Eaglets at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile, was a pointer to the fact that with adequate preparations, Nigeria can excel. He urged the government not to toy with the welfare of the athletes.
We have a new sports minister. He has been talking about corruption in sports and we haven’t heard him say much about how to develop sports in the country?
He is a new person in sports. I do not know much about him, I cannot pinpoint any of his sporting antecedents. But then we must have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Let us allow him to get himself together. I openly wished that the President would give us somebody with a sports background because we urgently need to develop our sports. But now that we have somebody, we just have to watch him and see what happens. Who knows, he may spring a pleasant surprise to us.
Next year is the Rio 2016 Olympics. If you recall four years ago, Nigeria didn’t win a single medal. With your experience as an athletics person, what’s your take on this?
The trouble we have with our sports is that we do not take care of our athletes. Don’t forget most of the Olympic events are individual sports; each athlete know exactly what to do in training to get results, but they are not prepared, mainly because they don’t have the means to help themselves. We mustn’t do only one side of athletics, we must do it correctly if we want results. Imagine that a country of 170m people cannot produce Olympic champions. We are going down every day. We are not looking after our athletes. We need to invest in them. Before going into any competition we must identify those that can win medals for us and get them up to speed. We must change the way we do things, when we care for our athletes, they will go out there and care for the country.
The National Sports Commission Director-General was recently quoted as saying that Nigerian athletes have a ‘die-hard’ spirit noting that when it comes to competition they will rely on that to see them through. Do you buy that?
No, I don’t buy that at all. We have to prepare our athletes so that they can excel at world sports events just like those of other countries. For example look at the Golden Eaglets. They were well prepared for the FIFA World Cup, with long months of camping. This was why they did well at the tournament. I was expecting that the boys would be treated to a grand reception, one in Lagos and one in Abuja with an open air parade for them.
What do you expect the government to do for these boys to show appreciation?
I am disappointed with the way the boys were treated. I am appealing to the President now to do something tangible to honour the Golden Eaglets. He called on phone to speak to them and the boys went out there to win the world cup. For me that was great patriotism. He should see that the boys are looked after, because if everything is done properly, they are the future of our football. They won the world cup and if we look after them well, they can win the senior world cup as well.
The President recently ordered that promises made to the first set of Eaglets be carried out almost 30 years after, therefore it is not all loss for the 2015 Eaglets?
I hope so. They should be given houses in government estates. Their parents will be very happy because it was their children who brought joy to them and the country. Besides, it will also spur other youths to take to sports, rather than engage themselves in other things undeserving. These set of Golden Eaglets should be kept together and their coach Emmanuel Amuneke be given the task to monitor them for the next four years. Let us have a four year plan that may see the boys graduate into the senior national team, with the hope of winning the senior world cup.
Do you think this will be possible? We have football agents already enticing these boys with offers abroad?
It depends on how we handle the boys. This is why I said there must be a plan. Whatever these young players need, lets give it to them now. Is it money, which they will get when playing abroad; give it to them? This is because we need to keep them together; we can stop them from going abroad. Besides how much money will they earn? It is when they have become established players that they will command heavy figures. So it is important we watch them grow and see them develop into complete players, with this I repeat they can win the senior world cup.