It is not surprising that the world football-governing body, FIFA, in its latest ranking, put Nigeria as the 30th nation in global football reckoning and number four in Africa. This is consequential upon the country’s superlative triumph at the just-concluded Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) held in South Africa.
The unique icing on the cake of this victory is that most Nigerians did not give our team any chance of even going beyond the group stages of the competition. In fact, midway into the continental spectacle, the Nigerian sports authorities were reported to have hastily and indecorously started shopping for a foreign technical adviser, apparently because of Super Eagles’ shaky take-off during the group-qualifying series! Now that it has taken us 19 years to win the trophy for the third time since the inception of the fiesta in 1958, having won it in 1980 here and in 1994 in Tunisia, this is the time to commence preparations for the next World Cup Mundial taking place in Brazil in 2015, and the defence of the Cup of Nations’ title.
We can no longer solely depend on divine intervention and good luck, as largely obtained in the past. Part of the reason we clinched the ultimate football prize in Africa was the painstaking build-up to the race, despite a few logistical challenges. The team’s hard work, dedication, discipline and Nigerians’ support were unprecedented and culminated in this sweet victory. Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora are justifiably in a celebratory mood following the Super Eagles’ victory that has brought glory and pride to the country.
The triumphal tonic has wiped off—even if momentarily—all the domestic security and social infrastructural problems confronting us. The unification that the success story has wrought among Nigerians is incomparable. We call on government to consolidate on this phenomenon by developing our local league, evolving a sustainable programme for age-grade competitions that serve as feeder platforms for national squads and, most strategically, exploring the unity and togetherness football generally engenders in the country.
It is good that individuals, corporate bodies, state governments and the national legislature are now all falling over one another with showers of gift items on the victorious national team. While we commend all those that have showered gifts on the distinguished football giants of Africa, we are disappointed that there are no concerted efforts to grow our local league.
Everyone waits for victory before any form of support. This is not encouraging and cannot transform the entirety of our sports because the implication of this is that if the teams do not win laurels, they will not be supported. Other countries that do well in the sporting arena nurture their teams before competitions where they inevitably excel to our chagrin and doom! As we march towards the country’s epochal centenary celebration, there is need for a rethink and re-engineering of our sports culture.
Football administration, particularly, cannot be left to fellows who had never kicked a ball in their life, let alone understanding its complex processes. Let former players run our football. President Goodluck Jonathan’s gesture to the winning soccer team is quite laudable, but he should have used this golden opportunity to cleanse our sports Augean stables. A member of the 1994 squad, Mr. Thompson Oliha, has just complained that he is yet to get the house promised members of his team by the Federal Government!
This is utterly embarrassing, inexplicable and awry. It would have been preferable if the president had addressed all the outstanding pledges and allied issues of sports leadership and administration before the current appreciation. A situation in which people who are not knowledgeable in the field direct our national sports life is unproductive and signposts naivety. Similarly, the dearth of sporting facilities and haphazard management of the totality of our sports are sore points begging for resolution.
Rewarding reigning sportsmen and women on a subsisting platform of decadence and indebtedness to former representatives of the country is a national tragedy. We congratulate the Super Eagles and the technical crew led by Stephen Okechukwu Keshi on this historic distinction and hope that all the gifts and pledges to them would be redeemed!