Dalong… And Operation ‘Save Past Sports Heroes’

The Golden Eaglets during the dinner with Sports Minister, Solomon Dalong, on arrival from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.

The Golden Eaglets during the dinner with Sports Minister, Solomon Dalong, on arrival from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.

Coach Godwin Izilein led the Super Falcons to win Nigeria’s fourth African Women’s Championship (AWC) title in South Africa in 2004.

On return from Johannesburg, the government rolled out red carpet for the victorious team and rewarded the players for doing the nation proud.

Sadly, the coach who provided the technical job was left out and since then, Izilien has been running from pillar to post, crying and appealing to those in authority to pay his outstanding dues, which, according to him, run into millions of naira.

Coach Izilien also led the Nigerian U-17 team, Golden Eaglets to the 7th African Junior Championship at The Gambia in 2005 where the boys failed to make it beyond the group stage. He is yet to be paid his outstanding allowances.

Coach Izilien is just one of many Nigerian past heroes either crying in silence or waiting for help. Their prayer may have been answered, if declaration by the newly appointed Sports Minister, Solomon Dalong, is anything to go by.

From the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 1999 till date, Dalong is the 14th politicians to hold the portfolio as sports minister.

Those who occupied the position before him were Damishi Sango, late Engr. Mark Aku, Steven Ibn Akiga (also late), Col. Musa Mohammed (rtd), Dr. Saidu Sambawa, Bala Bawa Ka’Oje, Abdulrahman Gimba, Sani Ndanusa, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, Bolaji Abdullahi and Tamuno Danagogo.

Shortly after his appointment, Dalong went into action. His first assignment was to receive members of the victorious Golden Eaglets, who made history in far away Chile by winning their fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup title.

After joining the players in the usual celebration dance, Dalong later had dinner with them at a party organized by the National Sports Commission (NSC).

The appointment of Dalong as sports minister had generated mixed reactions from members of the public, with some people insinuating that the new man is a greenhorn in sports.

But Dalong used the occasion to clear the air. “I am not a novice in sports,” he said. “I was a former footballer and a good goalkeeper in my youth days.

“I was in the government delegation to the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali and I have followed happenings in the sector keenly for over two decades,” he said.

Perhaps, one major issue of concern for the new Sports Minister is the issue of neglect of past sports heroes.

“The era of ‘Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’ has ended,” he said. “The days when sports men and women are used, neglected or dumped is over,” he stated.

To him, a nation that maltreats her past heroes will only make young ones of today to lack the sense of patriotism. “These neglected stars used to be the role models of the youths, and any maltreatment meted out to them may redound on how the young ones approach national duties.”

Dalong made reference to some ex-internationals in Plateau State who are presently feeding from hands to mouth, insisting that sports men are the priority, the actors and must be respected. 

Dalong also expressed disappointment with stakeholders over the lingering crisis, especially in the nation’s football. “After every World Cup, all you hear is crisis and more crisis. Our administrators have created a very bad impression out there and many think the reason for the infightings is money.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand and no sector thrives in crisis. We must learn to settle our grievances through dialogue and learn to understand and tolerate each other in whatever we do,” he said.

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