Irabor: You Cannot Reap What You Did Not Sow

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*Says Eagles’ World Cup budget should be diverted to domestic football

*’Sacking of NFF board no solution to solving football problems in Nigeria’

Duro Ikhazuagbe 

Former Chairman of the League Management Company (LMC), Hon. Nduka Irabor, insisted yesterday that now is not the time to cry over the inability of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Ghana’s Black Stars snatched the ticket with an away goal rule after an aggregate 1-1 draw over two legs. 

But the former Member of the House of Representatives said instead of fuming over the loss of the ticket to eternal rival Ghana, the Federal Government and all stakeholders in Nigerian football should begin to look for how to change the  funding of football in the country.

“Sacking the NFF board is not the solution. Even if you sack ten NFF boards and we continue to pay lip service to the funding of football, nothing is going to change. You cannot reap from what you did not sow,” began the former LMC chairman.

He stressed that we must return to the fundamentals of football and other sports by catching talents young from the grassroots. “It is time for us to have Zonal Coaches who will handle kids at early age. 

Irabor stressed that this task is not just for the NFF alone but different levels of governments to provide the funds and structures to achieve this. 

“Thank God for the privately run soccer academies. New talents seldom emerge from this country, anymore.”

The veteran journalist who was presidential spokesman attached to  the then Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu, when Dutchman Clemens Westerhof led Nigeria to her first World Cup appearance and the 1994 AFCON title, called for the strengthening of the domestic league rather than advocating funding of tournaments in chase of glory. 

“When well-funded, football has multiplier effect. For instance, there are talents here and If we patronise our NPFL players, they  would give enough competition to the foreign-born players. There are enough of good talents here.”

He wants the provision made for Super Eagles participation in the 2022 World Cup channelled to domestic football.

“Take for instance, there is provision for Super Eagles participation at the World Cup in Qatar in this year’s budget. That money should be pumped into the country’s domestic football. If we do that, there will be no need to bring players who could not make  teams of their countries of birth to the Super Eagles. There are enough talents here in our league,” the former LMC chief executive restated. 

Irabor said funding participation solely at tournaments is not the same as developing football and sports from the grassroots. “This is clearly a band-aid strategy. You will be lucky if you get performance and result. This is impossible.” 

He pointed at the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL)  which has been without a broadcast sponsor, the mainstay of most leagues around the world. “Can you emerging that government does not consider it appropriate for the NTA to buy rights as it is done in other countries where the corporates do not show up? When you do not have your local league on TV how do you know  what quality there is?

“Organisers of the league LMC and NFF do not own TV stations. It is a matter of national pride that we put our game on TV.

“Yearly, the government failed to provide for the NTA , the tax payers’ television house money to buy broadcast right for the NPFL. So where would money to run the league come from?

“There are well over 700 players in this league with over 380 matches every season. To the best of my knowledge, the Federal Government does not think it is important to invest in this league to grow. “There are several hundreds of individuals and corporates who can change the story of the domestic league but they choose not to because there are no incentives like tax holidays.” 

Irabor recalls the harrowing experience of NPFL players and their families during the early part of the Covid-19 that they had to stay at home doing nothing. “I am told that even car hire drivers at the airports got palliatives. Again, it is common knowledge what many African countries did for their leagues this period.”

On the violence that erupted after the Nigeria versus Ghana match at the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja on Tuesday, Irabor said it could have been avoided if police authorities over the years had responded to LMC’s requests for police personnel to be trained in crowd control at sports facilities.

“At the LMC, we met with the police high command in Abuja several times in the past and wanted a dedicated department specially trained to be established at host cities where are NPFL clubs. LMC is still waiting.”

He said that it was unthinkable to have over 60,000 fans inside that Abuja stadium without well-trained stewards and policemen with experience in crowd control.

“But if it was a convention of any of the big political parties, all the policemen and other arms of security agencies would have been deployed.

“Our sports must draw from the experience of people who have made the sector thriving. You cannot keep a child anaemic and expect it not to have a stunted growth,” concludes Irabor.