In this Radio Interview, the Nigerian Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare speaks on the various issues regarding Sports development in Nigeria, his relationship with the Nigeria Football Federation bigwigs, the possible restart of the Nigerian professional football league amongst other issues.
The Sports Minister spoke exclusively with Brila FM on Tuesday concerning the development of Sports since he assumed office. Excerpts…
Last year, August 2019, you were sworn as the Honorable Minister Of Youth and Sports Development, how has been the journey so far?
Its has been a memorable journey, not without Its twists and turns but of course, it has also been a learning curve. So far, we can also say we have laid out our vision, plans and we are determined to follow through.
There have been distractions, support, advise, contributions from stakeholders and criticisms as well, but we have kept our eyes at the tip of the spear because we came in prepared and we plan to work in four critical areas.
The plans are one, infrastructural development, the welfare of athletes and then look at how best we can drive sports industry policies that would turn our sports to an industry that will place greater value on our athletes, create jobs for our Youths and create revenue for the government.
We have remained focused on these areas and the last one is sports infrastructural development.
How soon should we expect better infrastructure and what is the update on the rehabilitation of the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja?
We were on the verge of completing the documentation process, review, contracting process for the rehabilitation of Moshood Abiola stadium before the novel covid-19 struck. We had to shut down the whole country, a global shutdown as the case may be.
Remember, it’s a private investment, private support from Alhaji Dangote’s company and they have to go through a lot of processes, they have to invite up to 8 different contractors, they have to visit the stadium, they have to turn in their bill of quantity and they have to sit on a review board.
The company also has to decide on which contractor is the most suitable to give us the best job, being the National stadium, all of these take time, they are normal standard operating procedures.
I am glad to say that very soon, we are now at the stage of purchasing order and we must also remember that we cannot accelerate or force the process because we are dealing with a well respected Nigerian who is bringing in private money without plans to recoup anything back to help maintain the national stadium.
Now, we have concessions approval to concession the national stadium in Surulere and the process has been ongoing, but it was delayed by the lack of transaction advisers and we have been able to overcome that. In the next couple of weeks or so, we will have those who are interested in taking over the National Stadium, Surulere concession and hostel will come forth and the normal process of concession will take place.
Beyond that, we are working with the Federal Government to ask for special intervention fund between 5 to 10 billion naira, that would look at the entire sporting assets in terms of infrastructure across the country and identify the ones we can renovate or upgrade. We have completed the audit from the mini stadiums to big stadiums and township stadiums to the indoor sports hall to the multipurpose sports hall to all training centers. 32 of them, and we need government intervention to activate some of them across the country and really get the grassroots sports development started. So, these are the ongoing processes but Covid-19 has slowed us down in some ways.
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Are there plans in place for Nigerian sports in post Covid-19?
There are prospects and there are challenges. About five weeks ago, we held the first Webinar meeting with a segment of the private sector and public stakeholders. The meeting looked at the prospects and challenges for sports in post-Covid-19 Nigeria and with the global perspective in view.
We know that we draw our resources from government and private sectors. As soon as I took over, we strengthened the public/private partnership and that was why we came up with the model idea of the Adopt Initiative of which adopt an athlete was part upon the realization that the needed funds for our sports development will not solely come from the government.
So, we decided to go on with the PPP model and came with the adopt initiative which focused on key areas: adopt a football pitch, adopt an athlete, adopt a stadium and we have seen progress in some areas. We have approached Chief Kessington Adebutu and we have reached an agreement with him to invest half-a-billion naira to fix the football pitch and the tracks of the National Stadium in Surulere.
We are at the point where we are putting up the papers and the memorandum of understanding (MOU). The National Stadium has been abandoned for 18 years but we believe after bringing some life back to the stadium, we can now activate the full stadium.
What is happening to Nigerian lottery sports and why has Nigeria not been able to maximize lottery trust to grow sports in the nation as is the case in other countries?
You will understand that with the Act that set up the lottery trust funds, it says its funds will be used for ‘Good causes’ and under this, we have health, education, sports and about four others.
What we have seen in other countries is that they have gone ahead to give sports some priority and they made sure that sports enjoy some specific percentage. Like in Jamaica, it’s 40 percent, in South Africa, it’s about 35 percent and 44 percent in the United Kingdom that comes directly to fund sports.
Since I came on board, I have looked at the Act. The Lottery Fund is under the Minister for Special Duties and I have held two separate meetings with him and I said the bulk of the money coming into the trust fund is from sports betting, it is essentially sports money and we need to look at this causes and we need to prioritize sports because it engages the youth.
I have met with Maigari who is in charge of the lottery trust fund. I have also made a very strong case to Mr. President that we don’t need to have just one percent from the lottery Sports but that we need about 25 percent because this money is coming directly from sports. These consultations are still ongoing.
Minister, in the past, we have ministers come and gone and sometimes, we had frictions between federations but Sir, what is your relationship with top guns of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF)?
I am not a football minister, I believe in the totality of the development of various sports that we have in this country.
Yes, football might enjoy a level of prominence because of the huge followership, but we must not lose sight of other sports. Other countries have become great, not because of football but because of long-distance races or other sporting activities.
I came in focusing on football but not taking my eyes off other key sports, almost about ten or eleven of them where we have abundance of talents and world record beaters.
But my relationship with the NFF is a constructive relationship predicated on the agreement that the interest of Nigerian footballers, the lovers of the game of football and every stakeholder within the football ecosystem comes first.
I have pushed for a new level of accountability and probity, it is not something we want to be celebrating in the media, we are really working underneath.
I only got in about eight months ago, whatever issues that are on the ground have been there for several years and these will take sometime before they can be sorted.
Some people think nothing is happening but that is a wrong assumption because we are taking necessary steps that will serve as checks and balances and that will bring about the changes that we desire. This change is a journey.
What is your view on the renewal of Gernot Rohr’s contract?
It was for him to have the option of offer of first refusal, the NFF worked with the ministry to review his performance over time but we found out some lapses. His contract has some new conditions and some of them are very stringent.
The new conditions are already out there to develop and pick our young footballers and to also watch our local league, Westerhof did that and he must make sure that he watches some of these talents, pick them and process them to the national team.
We just don’t want to sit there and collect some of the twelve best players in different clubs across the world and then, take them to win a game and you think you have done your job as a coach. As a coach, you must help us identify and develop our local talents and that has been the strength of our football and we have to return to that.
We also set some benchmark for him when it comes to the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and the World cup. He knows going forward, he must meet the right standards because we will be watching very closely and ask questions.
Minister, you talked about him watching the league games but when will the league resume?
The NFF president, Amaju Pinnick and League Management Company (LMC) chairman, Shehu Dikko have been invited for a meeting at the ministry where they will brief the ministry about their plans, what options they have for the domestic league either to go on or wind down.
Whatever the options are, we will discuss the merits and the demerits with a view of the reality in our country when it comes to Covid-19, we will look at audience participation if it will be taken out completely.
We will also look at the various levels of the league, the Nigerian National League (NNL), the women’s league and that meeting will be very decisive because when they present their options, we will debate them.
It is also important to go back to the stakeholders to let them know this is what we plan to do and also get feedback from them. But there will be no compromise on certain things, when it comes to the health code, there will be no compromise.
I can tell you, there will be no audience participation, content will have to be beam through radio, television and other means. Tests will be conducted on the players and the coaches as the case may be and I don’t see us having multiple venues.
We might think of centers to have all the other games. I don’t know what they are going to bring forward, I am just rolling out a few guidelines that I think must guide the return of the league.
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