Just right now,barrister Adokie Amiesiemeka,a former Nigerian international footballer,is not very popular with the average Nigerian football fan over his protest,that the captain of Nigeria’s team at the ongoing FiFa under-17 football world cup being hosted by Nigeria is over-aged.Amiesiemeka has been roundly abused and labeled unpatriotic,not only on the streets but by some representatives of the sports-governing authorities.
Make no mistake about it,Amiesiemeka is the real patriot here.The others are self-deceived.I believe that Amesiemeka recognisess that Nigerian sports will never reach the heights,until the problem of age-falsification is fully dealt with:age-cheats are usually senior athletes who step down to under-age levels,crowding out the real juniors and denying them the opportunity and exposure that come with participating in these junior tournaments.Usually,these age-cheats have only a limited ability to benefit themselves from these tournaments,given their lower teach-ability.As everyone knows,you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.
So the question is this:could Amiesiemeka not have been more “patriotic” by not making this protest in the full glare of the world during this tournament?I think his timing is brilliant. It would take something signal to concentrate minds in this country.Perhaps a Fifa ban is what is really needed here.A ban would force us to take a long look at sports adminstration and conception in this country.
From where i am standing,the two reasons driving dysfunction in Nigerian sports are poverty and lack of institutional integrity.First,for the average talented young man from a lower-class background,sports represents his best chance out of poverty.His task is made even tougher when he realizes the domestic sports scene is slavish:full professionalism is grossly inadequately rewarded and the progression to this level of professionalism from secondary school is unmediated by any network of sporting academies and organized sponsorship.He simply has to go abroad.This knowledge heightens the appeal of these junior tournament as shop-windows, at which to market yourself to the entire world.And of course ,you do whatever it takes to get in these tournaments.
Second,given the poor documentation history of our institutions,think schools,hospitals and courts,it is virtually impossible to trace any one’s record back a decade.Even where records exist,due to the breakdown of institutional integrity,the schools,hospitals and courts can be suborned to give you whatever personal details you desire.For a fee of course.
A conception of sports as an industry on its own,not necessarily dependent on continued government patronage,one that is capable of providing jobs for people in this country is sorely needed.And i mean good well-paying jobs.We need to shed the notion,that only white collar work should be well rewarded.Creating a viable sports industry will create so many more jobs than the oil/gas and banking industries combined.Think not only of the athletes themselves,but of all the other positions ancilliary to them:coaches,administrators,commentators,sports journalists,advertisers,equipment manufacturers and vendors.Such a viable industry would reduce the incentive for cheating as people would go through the academies straight to their local clubside where they can start a rewarding career domestically.