Corporate Nigeria’s obsession with football killing other sports, says Igali
Daniel Igali is the President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation and Chairman, Technical and Development Commission of Nigeria Olympic Committee, in this interview with SAMUEL IFETOYE, he spoke on his frustration over loss of interest in wrestling by individuals and corporate bodies and other issues bothering on the federation athletes’ qualification for next year’s Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Excerpts:
What are the plans of the federation towards next year’s Olympics in Rio, Brazil?
I think before we talk about the plans for the Rio Olympics in Brazil, it will be good to also revisit the preparations we had for the Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville. I know we went into camp in June, and we had about two months of good preparations. But before that, I would really want to appreciate the Director General of the National Sports Commission, Dr. Al Hassan Yakmut, and the staff of the Commission for a fantastic preparation before the Africa Games. This is probably the best camping we have ever had preparatory to any major event.
And when I say the best camping, I mean we got almost everything we wanted. Talk about the proximity of where we trained, the High Performance Centre, to where we stayed, it was just three minutes walking distance. And for the National Sports Commission to have accorded us a grade A facility we used, says a lot about what the NSC thought about us. Our complaints were treated with utmost urgency, as a result of that I feel since everything went relatively well, we should also accord due respect and encomium to the people who made winning nine gold medals possible; because they deserve it.
As for our preparations towards the Olympics in Rio, Brazil next year August, which is just about 10 months away; for the first time in the history of our participation at the Olympics, the country will be going there with a world medalist. On September 8, this year, Odunayo Adekuoroye in the 53 kg won a bronze medal at the Senior World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. So that puts us in a very good position looking forward in terms of our preparation for the Olympics.
I know that there is a lot of expectation on us now. To meet up with that, we are looking at different sources. On October 12, I was at the Canadian embassy in Abuja to make an arrangement for Adekuoroye to go Canada to train for about two to three months. You know when you qualify for the Olympics directly by virtue of been a world medalist at the world championships, one is exempted from the Olympics qualifiers and this reduces Adekuoroye’s level of preparedness. So we have to be strategic about her especially. Adekuoroye is not only our focus, our plan also is to qualify six athletes to eight other wrestlers for the Olympics.
In my view we have about six good athletes, who on a very good day can do well for Nigeria at any level, they could be very competitive.
Next year, three of our athletes will be going also to the United States for an event, the New York Athletic Club Open championship. We also have a competition in Azerbaijan at the end of November, where we are hoping that all the female athletes will compete. In the same November, we have a tournament in Egypt, Al Mustafa Open, where all the boys and the Greco Roman athletes will participate. And in December, we have a competition in Brazil where the whole team will go. So, we are planning for every team member to go to key tournaments before the end of December especially the ones that will be going for the Olympics qualifiers. We are also planning for competitions early February in Bulgaria, which is going to be a preparatory ground for the African championship that will be on March 1. And then the Olympics qualifier is in Algeria at the end of March also. So, we will be going to Bulgaria early February for a preparatory tournament and a camp and then we will go for the Olympic qualifiers in March. We are hoping that by the end of March we will have been able to qualify between six to eight athletes for the Olympics.
So, all in all, we have a good programme for the athletes. Whether we have the fund to attend all the tournaments and the programmes we have is another issue. However, I remember in Brazzaville, just a few hours after we finished the competition, I was summoned by the Director General of the National Sports Commission.
I was surprised that what he wanted to discuss with me was about the Olympics preparations that was immediately after the competition. So, I have a lot of hope that with the renew vigour of the National Sports Commission is more forward looking and I am hoping that things will go the way our camp went at the last Africa Games.
At the last camp, I saw a lot of different things; I was always going there to visit the athletes, I will leave Yenogoa on Thursday evening, I will train with them on Friday, Saturday, then Monday morning then before I will come back on Monday evening to attend to work on Tuesday. At our Assembly we sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So that is what I used to do. So, my first trip to the camp after they had been in the camp for about four days, I observed that we had 42 athletes, and we had two mats.
The ideal thing is to have not more than 10 athletes on a mat. So I called the attention of the National Sports Commission DG, I expressed my professional opinion about the need for extra mats. And normally, wrestling mats are not in this country. But I have a few mats that I bought because of such situations. And when we told him (Yakmut) that we needed a wrestling mat, he instructed that the mats should be provided within 48 hours, these mats are not cheap. One needs to be very decisive when one is making this type of decision especially on matter concerning sports.
Treatments are supposed to be given to athletes almost immediately even when it requires surgery. You do not need to waste time on such issues that pattern to athletes’ wellbeing. Wasting time before taking decision could be fatal. And that was what I saw with the new National Sports Commission at the last preparation. My hope is that that renewed zeal and vigour of the commission and its leadership will be sustained and that we would be able to attend the six pre-tournaments. If we can attend between four and five of these, I think we will be in a very good place for the Olympics.
How far have you gone with sponsorship?
I have met with a minimum of 30 corporate bodies in the country even before I became the president of the federation. For some reasons, these companies that have shown interest in the past are just no longer interested again except for football. Basketball is also another sport that has enjoyed the largesse of these corporate bodies to some extent.
In my view, lack of sponsorship has been the biggest problem we have in sports growth in this country! Everybody wants to leave the matter to the government. And government they say is defined as the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This invariably means that we also are part of the government.
What Nigeria stands to gain internationally in sports is not only for the government but it is something that will rub on everybody. If a Nigerian wins an Olympic gold medal now, definitely the glory is going to be shared by everybody. But people shy away from sponsoring other sports; they want to be armchair critics, they sit by the corner and always criticise and that has always been the problems that we have.
What is the prospect of Adekuoroye at the Olympics?
Adekuoroye has a lot of potential, but you should know that I too went to the 2000 Olympic as the world champion. In 1999, I was the world champion going to the Olympics. Adekuoroye won a bronze medal, which means that if we prepare well, and we are lucky on that day, she has a chance to win a medal. We must understand that Adekuoroye is just 21, and this is the first time that she has ever gone far in an international competition. The world championship and the Olympics are two different things. The pressure one feels at the Olympics, you don’t even feel half of that at the world championship because nobody expects anything from you. I want a situation where we will be able to handle her very well, as she is still young.
Looking at our team right now, if you look at every able-bodied sport in this country including athletics, no member of Team Nigeria won any a medal at a world championship. So, we are going to the Olympics with Adekuoroye being the only athlete who won a world medal. Definitely, all eyes will be on her and we need to protect her so as to bring her potential into full-blown. If Adekuoroye competes up to her full potentials and the draws are good, she has every chance to win a medal at the Olympics.
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