In Retrospect: Athletes Are in the Spotlight for the Wrong Reasons

By: Emmanuel Ilesanmi

Sports, especially football in Nigeria, are now more than just recreational games; athletes engage in them professionally to get paid. The onus of this lies in the fact that the Nigerians love their sports, but not their athletes. The passion among fans and athletes is, however, quite an elaborate one. All of this precedent can be found in other parts of the world. Still, an unbecoming act that is quite a familiar tale, not located on the other side, is the failure to pay players or athletes’ salaries and bonuses when due.

Today, there have been more entertaining news on off-the-field antics than the field actions – tackles, dribbles, slides, and runs – which should be the central theme or content for the sporting world. Sportspeople at different times have come out to express their grievances to the media about the inhumane welfare treatment they get. As if that’s not enough, they also have to pick up activism as a way of further ensuring that the proper authorities do the needful. What do you expect from a professional when the regular stipends are not paid? Is picking up a hustle the next option? 

Consider the recent information about the unpaid salaries of the Super Eagles coach and coaching crew. Without leaving out the players, who had one of their skippers come out to say how they sometimes pay out of their pocket to fund their games. More so, Nigerians were still recovering from the negligent behaviour from different federations at the Olympics, when some athletes from the just concluded National Sports Festival reportedly complained of the same issues. 

Perhaps, out of patriotism, athletes still compete for the country. Those who consider the process go through it as slave labourers and later jump ship and switch to places they feel valued. The athlete who should be called heroes is labelled a rebel by a system that refuses to take them seriously. The government primarily runs the system of sports in Nigeria. Some might argue that there is no way a government running the sector will achieve sustainable development as private enterprises are supposed to be the key players. The full realization that is yet to unfold is a topic for another day. The government, however, has done remarkably in terms of infrastructure, equipment, exposure programme and various required resources for high performance of athletes. Nevertheless, one can still say they have done little where much is needed. 

As part of the blame game, the administrator most often blames their employer, the government and her bureaucracy as a reason for the delay and denied funding. This is not entirely true. If you go to the grass-root level, the story is the same; most administrators, including those directly retired from the games, are still lazy about the corridors of power. Ask any active athlete you know; most of them will tell you of the desire to go abroad; the reasons are not far-fetched. Amateurs athletes on and around the university campus will have similar stories about the negligence they suffer from those in charge. The problem is that we put incompetent people in charge and expect our athletes to consistently put up a miracle showdown on the international and national stages. 

Every game requires systematic methodology in training and performance; ours is ruled by parade and prayers. To whom much is given, much is expected. However, what is to be expected of those to whom little or nothing is given? It would take a restructuring project to see a paradigm shift to what is seen and accepted in other climes. So the next time you see a Nigerian athlete, don’t think of them as a millionaire like his contemporaries elsewhere. Think of them as a regular hustler hoping he gets a chance to prove his talent. My advice to athletes is to see the need to ensure that they are financially educated, legally backed up with a contract where necessary. Place and seek means to get exposed and rewarded at every avenue, as athleticism can be a short personal journey.  

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