By Enefiok Udo-Obong
With ceremonial opulence and public razzmatazz, the Federal Ministry of Youth & Sports, led by the Honourable Mr. Sunday Dare launched an audacious project late last year. It was the ‘Adopt an Athlete’ and ‘Adopt a Stadium’ programme. This was an innovative way to involve corporate Nigeria into the development of sports in Nigeria as the country prepared for the Olympics with paucity of funds even before the COVID-19 induced recession. The programme was beautiful in its simplicity; The Ministry put up athletes who had podium chances at the Olympics and each corporate body can bid to support any of them with fees ranging from 10,000 USD – 20,000 USD annually to assist them in training. The ‘Adopt a Stadium’ followed a similar MOU. Some stadia were put up so that companies can renovate them and thus help our long decaying sporting infrastructure. The Adoption Campaign may have started yielding dividend following the confirmation by the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, that business moguls, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Adebutu Kessington (also known as Baba Ijebu) have pledged to renovate the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja and the National Stadium in Lagos respectively.
It must be noted however that these noble programmes are not new in sports and it is no way the exclusive idea of Mr. Dare. As the athletic programmes grew, The Hillcrest School in Texas, USA introduced the ‘The Adopt-an-Athlete program’ as an initiative designed to provide financial assistance to all teams and student-athletes by providing for uniforms, team travel, tournament fees, referee expenses, etc. Contributions made to Hillcrest School for this programme were tax-deductible and provided enhanced programmes and opportunities for the entire team. In Ontario Canada, Sponsors of Special Athletics were permitted to choose to ‘adopt a sport’ and become either the ‘title’ sponsor or for larger sports, could be a co-sponsor. Teams will proudly display name/logo on teams’ shirts and show the community the generosity of the sponsors to those in the Region who are so often overlooked. U.S Track & Field and U.S college sports also used the ‘adopt an athlete’ programme to get financial support of athletes.
However the criticisms in Nigeria have been coming as usual. The usual people who complain of the lack of adequate infrastructure in our sports and also the total dilapidation of the National Stadium are out condemning the actions of the Minister. Their position have one common theme, the hardship and livelihood of the numerous squatters around these stadia who have made the stadium their temporary homes and business premises. They argue that sending these people away to renovate the stadium is insensitive and inhumane especially during these times that the pandemic has made things difficult.
The position of these critics is understandable but they are speaking out of a combination of emotions and need to play to the gallery. Stirring up public sympathy for a decision that may cause some changes to pop culture.
The National Stadium over the years has transformed from a Centre of Sporting Excellence to a place of general chaos. The large edifice has since stopped hosting great and memorable international fixtures. The one time home of the Super Eagles is now home to beer loving night clubbers and a centre for social miscreants. The place is an uncoordinated market place. We have a melting pot of people that gather there for different reasons ranging from being a social club where adults meet to drink and flirt, to a place littered with people begging for alms, to a home for touts and people with nefarious behaviours. Mixed in this broth are the lifestyle enthusiasts. These social joggers, fitness clubs, dancers are scattered in every corner from parking lots to roads that there seems to be total disorderliness of activities. The environment is filthy. Without proper garbage disposals around, dirt ranging from used water bottles, plastic wrappers, uneaten fruits to even used condoms. Public toilets are sparse or non-existent for a place that takes in tens of thousands of people. So human waste can be seen at every area. The infrastructure is dead. The running track looks like a rat eaten carpet while the stadium seats have been broken, pulled out or just damaged in one way or the other. The main-bowl pitch is overgrown with weed at areas we are even lucky to have grass. The road surrounding the main-bowl is totally dilapidated. Large pot-holes, illegal kiosks and makeshift rooms are seen around. The unpainted edifice reveals the years of decay and bellies the once outstanding architecture that heralded great sporting moments in our nation’s history. Offices that housed previous Ministers of Sport and federal civil servants now are either night clubs or house cobwebs and piles of dust. Rats are landlords in many areas. The structures around the main bowl do not tell a different tale. The National Institute of Sports looks like an abandoned brothel, the indoor gyms have outdated and dirty equipment, the poorly lit indoor hall looks fit only for a vampire chamber. North of the stadium, the Medical Centre is a shadow of its former image and the buildings that house the SWAN and NOC are a disgrace in relation to our size, pride and sporting prowess.
The security perimeter wall of the stadium has been completely destroyed by nature and human vandalism in equal measure. Over grown grass surround the edifice while the area smells due make shift toilet activities.
Inside the offices, the human resource mirrors the outlook of the stadia, with staff looking disinterested and unmotivated. The is a feeling of idleness and nonchalance boredom in an arena that ideally should be busy all year round with sporting activities, concerts and a shopping plaza one can be proud of.
But it is not all gloom and doom. The indoor basketball hall has seen makeovers by Nestle and recently DSTV. The Para-Sports gymnasium had new world-class equipment supplied by Peak Milk. This is evidence of the role the private sector can play in upgrading our infrastructure. We may feel the initial pain of change, as it would not be business as usual even when renovation is complete but we must embrace it if we want progress.
While critics have a case in pointing out that existing contracts with local merchants be resolved amicably, either by refunds or compensation, the overall dream of having a great edifice like Wembley in London or The Allianz Arena in Germany would not come at an easy price. But in the end, it would be worth