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Sports federations and the search for elusive autonomy

On April 30, the ministry of sports announced the dissolution of all sports federations and the decision raised dust in sports circles. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) was the only exception because an election sanctioned by the world body is set for June. Many argued the tenure of the federations was to expire in July but funny enough none of the federations had shown any sign of rounding off its activities in order to stage an election. According to Decree 34 of 1971, the ministry is in charge of laws guiding sports in Nigeria.

The caretaker committees set up to take charge of all federations’ affairs till after the Olympics are basically headed by the same leadership in the dissolved boards except for two sports, including table tennis, in which Enitan Oshodi is Chairman of the caretaker body. We are aware that apart from athletics, other sports like basketball, taekwondo, rugby, boxing and judo, are also in crisis of various dimensions. In addition, the constitution guiding the federations says there must be an electoral committee six months before any election, but nothing of such was in place in any of the federations apparently because they were all looking up to the Olympics slated for this July.

The crisis in basketball is as tough as athletics as the two federations had two factional leaders before the dissolution on April 30. We are bold to say that this action has ensured that the crises have disappeared as the country looks forward to the Olympic Games with unity of purpose. Preparations are expected to get serious with the ministry’s decision as there are no excuses for laxity. After the games, interested people in various federations will follow the guidelines to seek positions in the new board of the federations.

A former Director General in the ministry, Dr. Patrick Ekeji, cleared the air on the ripples over the dissolution, which is within the powers of the minister, Sunday Dare. Ekeji explained that this could be done at any time in all the federations – except football.

We are aware many talk about autonomy of federations at crunch times but when there are international events, the same exponents see federations as being under the government. True autonomy is far from Nigerian sports because the federations are not ready for self-funding, which is vital. We recall that Nigerian sports have been synonymous with crises over the years. On many occasions, the crisis has denied the country successes at continental and global levels.

Incidentally, football, the number one sport in the land, is not an exception at national and club levels. There are many examples to draw from. A few years back, a Jos-based politician and businessman, Chris Giwa, fought for legitimacy to head the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

It literally was war. The police took over the secretariat of the NFF on many occasions while the Super Eagles lost a crucial Nations Cup qualifying match due to the crisis. The NFF was busy fighting for the soul of the federation and did little about the match. The expiration of the tenure of that particular board ended the crisis.

In the domestic league, administrative and welfare issues spark rows in various clubs. Sports federations are not left out of the crisis syndrome, in fact they are worse. The board members fight over trips, especially international ones, they fight over grants; they fight over roles they play in the activities of the Federations. Rather than focus on setting the country’s sport on track for success, board members of federations battle one another over who is who in the running of the particular sport. At the end of every year, it is expected that federations bring out a calendar of activities for the next year, we doubt if they still do.

Emphasis now in the calendar is on international trips for qualifiers and other competitions, where they could benefit by getting allowances in hard currency. It is indeed a shame because the major objective of sports development is jettisoned due to the selfish interest of the federations’ board members. It is sad that national competitions staged to identify and raise talents to national team levels are no longer prevalent. How many federations can boast of holding three competitions in one year? The few we have are initiated by creative individuals and some sports loving corporate bodies that enjoy sponsoring sports.

How functional are the secretariats of the federations? Coaching is yet another big issue in the federations but sad enough the head coaches in some of the federations are picked not by merit but often by sentiment. An example is the table tennis federation whose head coach is like a ‘figure head,’ he cannot handle any of the senior players for crucial games. Till date, only six federations have approved constitutions from their international governing bodies. They are Aquatic, Boxing, Cycling, Basketball, Table Tennis and Shooting.

Yet these other federations will always talk about constitutions of affiliated bodies which they do not even have. The autonomy these federations are looking for can only start when they are ready to fully fund their activities by embracing the private sector in order to boost their operations. We also charge these federations to improve their technical departments such that Nigeria’s athletes can compete keenly with their counterparts all over the world.

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