Monday, June 22, 2009

Our Sports and the Lotus-Eaters

‘Our administrators use our talents like oranges. They suck them dry and threw the empty husks into the dustbin of history without much ado’

It’s a g-o-a-l! Goal number one! What a magnificent goal from an impossible angle!!

Stop it. Are you mad? You’re reading a newspaper and suddenly you are shouting it’s a goal. What’s happening?

I have just read the news report that the President has ordered the Central Bank to make sure Jay Jay Okocha’s trapped $1 million in the Sarake Generale Bank be paid.

In fact, that’s more than a goal. It’s a miracle. Definitely, this will go a long way in boosting the morale of sportsmen and women in the country. From now on, our country will be hard to beat since we have presidential support.

For where? You think it is only presidential handshake and fire-brigade efforts to bale out a sinking boat that will bring laurels?

No, I mean our administrators will now get things right. If the President can do it, why not the sports administrators? Up Eagles! Up Falcons! Up Glass House!

You must be kidding yourself. How can you roll out the drums for a flash-in-the-pan presidential gesture? The problem with Niagara is that we don’t plan for the future; yet we want to win all competitions we take part in as if God, indeed, is a Niagaran.

What’s wrong with that? Without any planning, we won the maiden U-16 World Cup in China in 1985. We came second in 1987 in Canada only to miss it in 1989 in Scotland. But we won it again in 1993 in Japan. Yet, you say we don’t prepare for competitions.

You asked for this. Do you know why we performed excellently well in 1985 and 1987? It’s because we caught the rest of the world unawares. By 1989, they had learnt and perfected our ‘native’ technique. The Saudis started it when they brought an Under-16 team comprising ‘young’ footballers who sported serubawon (fearsome) whiskers as moustaches for the 1989 edition which they won. I can still remember how the commentator remarked that the Saudis were a remarkably unusual bunch of Under-16 lads who must have been shaving probably before they were born!

Don’t mind those racist commentators. Na bad belle.

I can appreciate their sense of humour, though a little on the hard side, but I can’t really blame them. They must have analysed critically, too, our own unnatural lucky run in the underage competitions. They must have discovered that most of our young tendrils in Under-16 and Under-17 categories often wither and expire, like drugs, barely five years after taking part in a major competition. They could have observed that some Under-17 lads invited to camp had been playing in the Division One league for about six years or more.

What’s the meaning of all this? Have you joined our detractors to lampoon our successes over the years?

Far from it. The point I am making is that because we don’t have a practical programme for the future, we resort to unorthodox and, some say, fraudulent means to excel. What kind of tainted ‘excellence’ is that?

But we won the 1996 Olympics football event in Atlanta with purposeful planning and rugged determination. How about that?

Rugged determination, yes. Purposeful planning? No. Our success was a freak of nature. For the entire Olympiad, we didn’t plan for anything. The medals were just falling on our laps like overripe mangoes in the weightlifting category. If we planned for it, we ought to have performed better in Sydney, Australia, in 2000 but what happened? See how our sports administrators treated Gloria Alozie, the sprint angel. Her coach, confidant and friend died in a road accident and the administrators did not care a hoot!

Is that why she turned her back on the country?

Do you really blame her? Our administrators use our talents like oranges. They suck them dry and throw the empty husks into the dustbin of history without much ado. Now, they want Obafemi Martins of Inter Milan but that one is too smart for them. He must have asked himself: Where is Joseph Dosu, the goalkeeper of the victorious Atlanta team? Where is Emmanuel Amuneke of the 1994 Nations Cup fame? Where are the stars of yesteryear?

My friend, you are beginning to sound too pessimistic like Ade Ojeikere, the New Age sports writer and commentator. Can’t you see some silver lining in the clouds?

For where! Critics like Ojeikere are being patriotic. They know how football and other sports are being run in other lands, and they want their own ‘native’ football and sports administrators to do likewise. But they are labelled rebels. Well, they are rebels but with a cause. For instance, how can we ever play good football if our playing turfs are better suited for beach volleyball? How can we perform well when we train on ‘corrugated iron fields’ only to confront the opponents on lush-green turfs? How can we perform well when we don’t play friendlies to know our strength and weaknesses?

But that reminds me. I enjoyed the Super Falcons’ last match. They dazed the Mandela girls and, as usual, the South Africans could not shout Amandla! Our girls were super!

You can say that to the marines in Apapa. The way they played is nothing to write home about. If I say anything now you’d say I’m being unpatriotic but I would rather refer you to what another commentator said during the last Women’s World Cup Championship in USA. After watching our girls in the previous matches, he looked at their chances against Sweden and remarked in a plaintive tone — the Falcons “are talented and aggressive. The only thing lacking is that they don’t use their brain.” Indeed, if they had used their brain in that match against South Africa, on March 30, they would have scored not less than six goals but they were just running aimlessly all over the place like a robot without its brain box.

No matter what you say, me, I love them. I like the way they play, especially the way they shake their ikebes (backsides) and chest the ball. And, my goodness, see how they take bicycle kicks in the full glare of the camera! So acrobatic and so photogenic!!

You should be tried for girl-abuse, and the cameramen for invasion of privacy.

Whaat! Why? Everybody has his own reason for watching the team. As for me, I pay to watch the girls caress the ball and blow hot kisses when the game reaches a sweaty climax with a spectacular goal! I don’t care what you think or say.

But I care what the lotus-eaters and hedonists like you do to our sports administration. Period.

Our Sports and the Lotus-Eaters was first published in TELL, May 10, 2004.

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