USA ready to develop Nigerian athletes
A few days ago I finally returned from my Olympic trip and my football 'odyssey' in the USA.
Right from the airport in Lagos the atmosphere was pregnant with lamentation. Nigeria has just returned from a barren summer Olympics and the people are displeased with the poor and humiliating results.
Unfortunately, this is not a new song. It has been sung before through periods that were even slightly better than now. At least at previous games the country came back with something, a medal of some colour.
So, the Nigerian airwaves are now saturated with the frustration of the people It is true that succeeding in sports requires the application of very simple principles. So why have we failed so badly?
Nigeria no longer has a number of good football grounds to host the Super Eagles matches. Only one stadium facility is good enough to host their international football matches. The Abuja National Stadium turf, once with the best turf and the official home of the Super Eagles, has been destroyed by lack of maintenance.
These days, the Esuene Stadium in Calabar has become the place of choice because of its flat, grassy turf. Yet this courted 'bride' of Nigerian footballers is not as good as any of the 35 standard football pitches on the campus of the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. I am not exaggerating. I counted them.
It is ironic that, even when the members of the Super Eagles and their coaches are complaining about the unsuitability of most grounds all over Nigeria as a result of their conversion to artificial surfaces, the government is considering converting the national stadium, Surulere in Lagos, to artificial turf.
Would the installation of artificial turf make the stadium suitable for football matches at the highest level? No! That’s why the Super Eagles are refusing to play on any one of the exploding number of such grounds in the country, irrespective of how beautiful they may look to the eyes and to television.
I have always believed that the use of artificial turf is a massive international racket 'sold' to third world countries with the active connivance of local administrators by a few powerful people within Fifa with interest in the artificial turf business. I am surprised that Fifa does not appreciate the grave danger this is doing to the football of developing countries.
Why have the advanced cultures of football not converted to artificial turf? Therein lies the answer. Why has research continued on the improvement of grass pitches by advanced football cultures and third world countries are being encouraged to install rubberised turf. Nigeria is now littered with them. Rubber can never replace the feel and comfort of good, flat, lush grass!
Nigeria can surely learn a few things from America. That’s why the recent visit, organised by the Nigeria Academical Sports Committee of the National Sports Commission (Nascom), to the US state of South Carolina is so important.
An 18-player contingent of student footballers from Oyo State visited the American state. They played matches against youth teams in Greenville, Charleston, Rockhill and Columbia. Football coaches from high schools and colleges (universities) thronged the venues of the matches to watch the Nigerian lads play.
After four matches, American coaches identified eight of the 18 players as possible candidates for places and scholarships in their American institutions. They want them back immediately. Beyond identifying the best among them the next critical factor is 'authenticity' - authenticity of the students and their documents. That has been the country's albatross, which has prematurely terminated most previous schemes.
American colleges are willing and ready to provide any number of qualified, gifted, young Nigerian athletes with the opportunity of scholarships to get a good education and to attain the highest standards in sports. The opportunities have been there all along but the usual corrupted Nigerian way of doing things has stymied them. The students usually presented before now were not the ages they claimed or had papers that were outright fakes.
Against this background, Nascom has set out to do things differently and correctly, working with the Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF). This way the opportunities for sports development and education abroad can be fully exploited. Nascom will insist on authenticity.
The Oyo State team is back with incredible reports. They have set the stage for what is possible in the development of a great future for Nigerian sports. While we are still lamenting the present poor state of affairs, let us also look ahead with hope, seizing the opportunity America offers, to do things differently. The Americans are willing and waiting.