Sports

Rohr’s Sacking: Coaches fired everytime; not new -Dare

The Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, in a recent interview with a cross-section of the media in Abuja which was monitored by CHARLES OGUNDIYA, has said the ministry is working so hard to curb the using of illegal substances by athletes. He also talked about the structures they are putting in place to end it. Excerpts:

As a minister, what do you want to be remembered for?

I would like to be remembered as someone who stood for good governance in Nigerian sports. Talking about that, it has to do with creating a good relationship between the ministry as a supervisory body, powers of offices and the federation. We have 38 boards and federations with their policies, games and financial burden. Building a good relationship around sports development is at the heart of the relationship with the federations.

There was first a sovereign country with a constitution then we have derivatives even as a citizen of Nigeria, without this country as a sovereign nation, I cannot hold the passport of this country or enjoy the rights and privileges of being a Nigerian and I cannot be part of the international community. This extends to the federations as organisations.

So my point is that it is important that the ministry understands its role, understand its power and its source. It is important that the federation understands its roles and responsibilities in relating to the ministry, and it’s important that the athletes themselves understand their roles, rights and privileges. There was first a country before an international federation, and it is not about me because people try to personalise it but we just have to get it right.

If 10 ministers come after me and we don’t resolve it, the crisis will continue but someone must drive the fork into the ground and that is what I am doing. It’s not about a popularity contest or applause. It’s about carrying out our responsibility and roles. We recognise the international federations and their laws and we recognise the presidents and the boards and we have to compare notes to make sure that we are doing well.

Recently there were calls by the ministry for the Nigeria Football Federation to organise its election, what would you say about this?

The main organ of the NFF is Congress. The Ministry and the government will just wait and see because Congress is supreme. Based on the information that is available, the agitations, expectations, people looking forward, and people coming to us, it is important to make sure the elections take place. Secondly, even FIFA said you must domesticate. I need evidence from anyone to show that the NFF statute has been properly domesticated. It’s because we’ve kept quiet for so long. Now our job is done and we say do what is right.

How would you rate the NFF under Amaju Pinnick’s leadership?

I have been in office for three years and I’ve only been able to supervise the NFF as an agency of the government. Of course, we’ve had problems but I have an approach that is engaging, collaborative and consultative with the leadership of the NFF even with the president and the secretariat.

We’ve focused on three main issues; we need to make sure that our leagues regain vitality, enforce the regime of licensing and financing and make sure that youth football development takes centre stage; that is the live wire of any football development eventually. The last one has to do with the good governance structure in our country and it has been an ongoing conversation. The jury is still out on the tenure. I don’t think personally as the minister I should pass judgement. We’ve had periods and tenures where we wanted to get things done and go over the hurdle, and I think that is important irrespective of who is in charge of that federation. The interaction and interface between the government and the supervision of the ministry must continue in tandem.

What would you say is your landmark achievement in office?

It has to do with the clear vision we had when we came into the office, knowing very well that sports development was crucial and you must depart from episodic sports development where we conduct international and continental events from time to time. When you talk about sports development we talk about grassroots development, talent hunts, youth de-velopment, developing and supporting the federations to get talents that will compete for the country and attain podium performances. We focused on infrastructure and we have been able to deliver to a large extent.

We moved away from waiting for the government and we have robust publications and private initiatives and we had three levels. We have been able to deliver the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja after 10 to 11 years of abandonment. International matches are now being played there. We then moved on to the National Stadium, Lagos and after 19 years of neglect and abandonment, it is 65 per cent completed.

We have the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium which is the first of its type in Africa, formerly referred to as Liberty stadium, which is also on its way back primarily from funding from the government. We worked with Governor Nasir El Rufai in Kaduna in the last two years to bring back the Ahmadu Bello Stadium. In the next few months, we should be handing over the stadium to the government. At the level of good governance, we have been working with the federations to make sure they know their roles and responsibilities.

Would you say you are satisfied with your role as the head of the ministry, especially with all the bickering in various sports federations?

To a large extent we’ve been properly guided as an institution because we are statutory; we understand the law, we understand our powers. We had a choice to stand aloof and do nothing, and when we tried to step in the question of interference came up. I keep saying there is a thin line between interference and intervention. The government cannot be sentenced to silence on the basis that someone is going to waive the interference or intervention as the case may be. In the case of the AFN (Athletic Federation of Nigeria), we inherited some of these challenges; we had a board that tried to mediate but it didn’t work. After two years they went for an election, and a president emerged, the World Athletics that has the final say said this is the faction we recognise. The NBBF has been an ongoing crisis for five years. As a minister, I consulted with previous ministers and they said we inherited this problem. We tried but we did not succeed. We had a number of meetings with some of them in the open and some of them not in the open. It’s been ugly but we found every party had their feet wet in sentiments. I thought the interest had to be national, of our athletes and of our basketball league. We’ve seen in five years how our domestic league has suffered, and how different parties have been on different pages but we decided to take our time and waited for the election. On October 30, we stopped the election because the bickering over constitutional issues was so much. We worked with FIBA to gain a period of another 60 days, bringing a reconciliation committee to do what was necessary. Even after that, two presidents emerged. We had a number of agitations on the part of players, threats to boycott, signatures and appeals. It was just unending, so we had to take a position. We had all the facts, we had to present the facts before the Federal Government and a decision had to be taken. Something must give when you have an unending crisis.

Nigeria will not be at the World Cup, how disappointed are you?

You just mentioned it. The greatest disappointment is that our country won’t be at the Qatar 2022 World Cup in spite of the efforts, investment, and energy. It is regrettable because I also know that on the part of the government, the NFF, everyone made effort. Football is not 100 percent certain and there are lessons learnt but the cycle comes on quickly so you must start the preparation as soon as possible. You’ve seen an attempt to build the national team, you’ve seen an attempt to try and get a few things right without cutting corners.

It was said that you were involved in the sacking of Coach Gernot Rohr, how do you draw the line between interference and intervention?

I will not reply to these things because they are just designed to defame someone’s character. As a sports minister, I superintend sports development. The NFF like other federations draws its legitimacy from the sovereignty of the nation. It is not independent, so if performing my roles seems like interference then it’s a problem. We’ve had several ministers before me and I consult them to make decisions when I have to. But when things go wrong, they look for a scapegoat and what I heard is a lot of scapegoating. I fired Rohr and did other things. I’ve done my job as the min- ister to make sure the right decisions were taken. Some of these decisions were taken, they weren’t d o n e unilate r a l l y ; there was consultation. It’s a pity that b e – cause things had not gone the way people wanted them to, they stepped out to malign my character and say a lot of things. We’ve taken decisions guarded by the information we had, and coaches are fired every time. I stood against Rohr’s second term and his coming back. The NFF provided a compelling reason to bring him back but before he was relieved of his job, we had several meetings. There are letters to serve as evidence to show the process. The ministry or minister did not just wake up and decide that Rohr must go. When I hear these things I just wonder but I think people should own up to their responsibilities. I own up to mine. There’s no 100 percent decision, we make decisions and live with them and that is what we have done.

What can you say about the doping crisis involving some of our athletes, especially Blessing Okagbare?

While the investigations were on, there was hardly anything you could do about it. Now that we’ve heard the verdict, we will say it is rather unfortunate and the news hit us hard. We have got to go and meet Blessing Okagbare. We’ve set up an anti-doping committee and we are working strenuously to make talents work. We get monthly reports on our talents and we send reports to WADA. We have done a number of seminars; take Benin for instance, we had a twohour seminar for athletes to make sure they know what the risk is.

 

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