Odegbami: My One Wish For Sports In 2021!

If there is one wish that should be granted to me by the Universe about Nigerian sports in 2021, what would that wish be? It is a no-brainer. I am not batting an eyelid.

Permit me to welcome everyone to the year 2021. I am looking through my crystal ball. I see one blank canvas. That excites me. I remember that I was a fine artist first before I became a football star. The artist in me immediately comes to the fore. The Universe comes again with another poser – what I choose to paint on this canvas would become my reality. What would I paint?

I am very anxious to get started because I have the answer at my fingertips. For sure I shall not go back to failed systems, processes, and structures. That will be stupid and unproductive.

I shall draw inspiration aplenty from history and previous experiences that yielded visible and measurable successes.

I shall project into the future.
In 10 years Nigeria can be a global power in sports, competing against the giants, USA and China, in many sports events at the Olympics and the World Championships. This is a very realizable target that can be achieved with the political will to put in place a foundational structure upon which sports development can be built to yield fruit in 10 years. The point is that this does not require a degree in rocket science to understand or implement. What has always been missing are two things – a leader in sports that shall drive it, and the political will to implement what appears to be a simplistic, or too-good-to-be-true solution.

Incidentally, there is also a general consensus amongst serious sports professionals with experience and knowledge about Nigerian sports that there is only one way to go.

Dr. Patrick Ekeji, former international athlete, former Director-General, and one of the most educated and trained minds in sports in Nigeria’s history, summed it up nicely in a text message he sent to me on New Year’s Eve.

“Without that Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, and which must be driven by a professionally constituted sports administration, all we are doing to sports development is, at best, patching the sector with adhesives which wash off under slight rise in surface temperature”.

In a second message, he wrote: “I got to know the acronym ‘TINA’ during the vision 2020 exercise. It stands for: There is no (other) alternative. Whichever name government may choose to call it, the SPV for sports development is the National Sports Commission. Long ago, I had arrived at Quod Erat Demonstrandum (QED) for our sports development. NSC is it”
That says it all. Most experts agree.

That would be my single wish. It would also be what I would paint onto my blank canvas in my crystal ball. The NSC. The NSC. The NSC.

The NSC is a board of professionals from various segments of the sports sector, coming together to provide the compass and leadership for sports development in the country.

These must be people selected on merit from the sports sector and far from political considerations.

A similar model will be established by law in all the States creating State Sports Commissions boards of similar professional membership as in the NSC. Unfortunately, what exists now in some States as a commission is in name only and not in the substance.

Grassroots sports development, from cradle to Secondary School, should be the responsibility of school owners, private, governments, missions, etc., each following established guidelines by the State Sports Commissions and the National Sports Commission to enable and steer the transition of athletes from grassroots to elite.

Tertiary institutions are in a league of their own, but also tied to the aprons of the Sports Commissions that supervise and enforce certain minimum provisions for sports in all the institutions.

The Nigeria Schools Sports Federation, under the Federal and State Ministries of Education, shall organize the State and national competitions for all schools and shall be guided and supported by the sports commissions.

The Nigeria Olympic Committee is a private but very ceremonial organization. It assembles all the sports federations under one roof to establish and enforce compliance to international sports statutes, resolve disputes, and provides support for different developmental programs for different sports federations when available. Its biggest assignment is to register Nigerian athletes and lead them to the Olympics, the Commonwealth, and the All Africa Games.

The national sports federations and State sports associations are private bodies formed by private sports clubs to organize their national and international club events. They, however, collaborate with the NSC to participate in international events.

That’s it really, on paper, a simple structure that worked well and produced results in the past. It makes sense to heed the call of Patrick Ekeji and many experienced sports professionals to start the process of establishing the National Sports Commission by law. It is presently crawling in the corridors of the National Assembly in Abuja.

My single wish on Day 1 of 2021 is for the intervention of the elements to make the NSC a reality early in 2021. By 2030 Nigeria would be one of the greatest sporting countries in the world.

I wish all Nigerians a very happy new year!

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