Many will be happy if the Nigeria Baseball and Softball Federation could find “just N6 million” to send the Nigerian National 12-Under Baseball Team to the International Baseball Federation World Cup holding in Chinese Taipei in July 2013. Those who will rejoice must necessarily include the 15 children that formed the national team. I know from the records that more than 12 of the children are from humble backgrounds. Their parents are not rich in the Nigerian sense of it. They are the kind of parents we see regularly in this part of the country: they cherish education and therefore can spend their last kobo to see their children through school, while still encouraging some investment of little time in talents like sporting activity. An average forward looking parent in Nigeria would rather starve than not invest in his child. I would expect our governments and agencies to mirror this kind of attitude in policy making.
One should mention this also. All the children in this national baseball team will be travelling by air for the first time. Therefore, they would be excited by that mere fact. Though, they are not your typical village boys who in those days will sing songs of praise for a passing aircraft above, asking it to greet the Queen of England. I was once like that and I know what it means to be excited about travelling out of your rusty, local environment. In those days we ran very fast after the aircraft … and as fast as our little tiny legs could carry us. We would only stop when the aircraft had disappeared into the sky, making a distant noise. Sadly, the aircraft may never make another tour through our sky in another six months. We always wait for it.
With sports, many small dreams could be made to come to pass in the life of children. The little baseball children who are representing Nigeria, Africa and the black world in the Taipei World Cup will meet other children and make friends from different parts of the world. The great chance is that Nigeria would also have sown a seed into them that will make them start a career in sports. I know most of our experts in sports in the National Sports Commission and Nigerian Olympic Committee understand the reason why we catch them young. Someone even told me that billions of naira was appropriated for grassroots development of sports in Nigeria by the National Assembly and that no one has been called to account for the money. Yet, some children could not access ordinary N6 million to represent their country in a World Cup where the flag of Nigeria will fly high among big nations of the world.
Sixteen countries will come for the International Baseball Federation 12U World Cup in July 2013, just some three months away. It is significant that Nigeria, the biggest Black Country in the world was able to scale through all the obstacles to be given the ticket to represent Africa. South Africa did not make it, despite having a robust history of baseball going back to 150 years. Nigeria made it despite South Africa being unrivalled in Africa as numero un and high ranking in Ibaf international rating. For the past 21 years Nigeria has been coming second to South Africa, even in All African Games where the nation’s baseball players got Nigeria medals.
Ibaf, probably saw the seriousness of the children program Nigeria is running in recent times because the present national team emerged from local schools/communities clubs who eventually made it to the national championship in September 2012. The children were carefully selected, taken to a camp in Ibadan and were worked upon by a team of foreign and local trainers. Ibaf, and serious minded sports observers all over the world, would never understand in the faintest imagination how “just N6 million (naira)” will be a problem to Nigeria, a country that sits on billions of petrol fund that is quoted in dollars.
Raising sponsorship for sports is about crafting proposals and presenting them to those who can buy into them, particularly if you are talking of local competitions. You must perfect the arts of begging in many places, both high and low. Your desire will be to make the dreams of the children-competitors come true. You will meet all kinds of concrete walls, man-made and mostly built on half truths; and sometimes ignorance. Some half truths even come from expert sports administrators who do not know how to unlock vast creative potentials of our children that are buried on daily basis. They sit like “demigods” over vast resources that belong to all of us, as Emperors sit on private estates. That certainly should not be the attitude to running sports or any part of our public life.
I read a newspaper report recently that says that the baseball federation will not get a kobo from the National Sports Commission for a World Cup that should, as a matter of national importance and necessity, be its responsibility because the agency is broke. The report went further to say that the pitiable situation arose from spending a large chunk of its funds on prosecuting football campaign thus allowing other things and federations to suffer.
Going by the policy statements made by Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the Minister of Sports, funding sports (not only football!) will be based on activities and needs of federations. In other words, following his categorization of federations and sports, the smaller ones (like dogs) would only be entitled to crumbs falling from Master’s Table. You can also call this prioritization of needs due to limited means to take care of ends.
Brilliant move! Isn’t it?
In another report, the Minister of Sports also enunciated his sports strategy after the London Olympics saying that the National Sports Commission will “immediately establish a framework of conditional grant aiding that is based strictly on compliance with the overall principles that would govern the transformation of the sports sector in the country as well as efficiency and performance”.
If this new policy arose from the poor outing of Nigeria at the London Olympics, should the nation not be preparing on time for another good day when our children will do us proud through making them competitive worldwide. At tender ages children can catch fundamentals of sports quickly. Then the question arose, why is the activity of the baseball federation and other smaller federations with insignificant budget content not important to National Sports Commission again? Why have the crumbs promised by Mallam Bolaji Abdullai refused to fall from the Master’s table? Who are the people trapping the crumbs? To many observers, the Minister’s policy directions which he made public are becoming very irrelevant just few days after they were made. Like the Proverbs advised the lazy young man, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands … – so shall your troubles come…“. With such wobbling steps, lack of seriousness and lethargy will set into sports at a critical time that the Honorable Minister had declared his readiness to make changes. Things must change if our Minister will like to build on his zeal and make history. Policy summersault is not a good sign of progress.
. Laniyan is the Secretary General of the Nigerian Baseball and Softball Association. He sent this piece from Abuja.