The Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre), Nigeria’s foremost anti-graft group in collaboration with “PLAY!YA Nigeria”, a sports-concerned rights group tasked journalists to engage the series of sleaze around sports administration instead of sustaining the growing culture of reporting the idiosyncrasies of coaches and the leisure of footballers.
The two groups brought together stakeholders in Nigerian sports at a two-day summit which began on Tuesday in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital and home to top flight sports administrators. Over 30 sports journalists from across the country were brought together for training on public-interest reporting of sports. The project was with the support “Upright for Nigeria” and UKaid. The organisers hope to set the pace for investigative reporting in order to expose entrenched heaps of scandals said to be associated with sports administration in Nigeria.
In the past two decades, sports administration has being on a steady decline in Nigeria with critics blaming the trend on large scale corruption left sealed from public scrutiny. Some of the corruption issues identified are doping or match fixing, sexual harassment as well as non-payment of allowances to athletes and players apart from the complicity of top media owners and editors who have built a cartel that shield sports bigwigs from civic scrutiny even in the face of guzzling of millions of public funds
PLAY-YA Director, Mr Eze Alloysius who spoke on “Tackling corruption and under-development of sports in Nigeria: investigative reporting for the common good and sport development” said the administration of sports should be purged of corruption before Nigeria can lift trophies in regional and international competitions.
In his opening remark, Mr Alloysius noted that; “The grassroots athletes and players are worst hit by the corruption and maladministration in sports. Many grassroots teams are without any facility for practice and qualified coaches to train them. Government subventions, royalties, sponsorship deals, adverts among other monies accruable to the sport federations are in most cases diverted, spent or squandered through the elite teams without recourse to grassroots development.”
Speaking further, Alloysius condemned the “mad rush for foreign athletes and players as if there were no young people in the country who are engaged in sports. It must be recalled that in the 1980s and 1990s, virtually all Nigeria’s major athletes and players were groomed within the country before leaving to further their career abroad when necessary. But nowadays, the reverse is the case: We have federation presidents going to foreign countries to beg prominent athletes and players with dual citizenship to come and represent Nigeria in major competitions.” He added: “the ‘appropriation’ of Anthony Joshua to be a Nigerian after a successful career in boxing abroad is a good example.”
Mr Alloysius said emotion of football has provided a veil on the underneath cases corruption in sports. He Urged sports journalists to act accordingly. He said “In all these malfeasance, the only genuine and responsible body everyone looks up to for intelligence, scoop and information is the press. The role of sports journalists in investigating and reporting cases of corruption and maladministration in sports governance cannot be overemphasised. However, the Nigeria media is lagging behind in discharging this onerous duty to the public.’
While delivering his goodwill message, Mr Okeke Patrick, Deputy Director of grassroots sports development at the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, urged journalists to be courageous and work with the HEDA and PLAY!YA to investigate as well as rid the Nigerian sports sector of corruption. He said Nigeria has lost its past glory in sports to corruption.
Mr Kayode Thomas who presented a paper titled, “The corruption situation in Nigeria and its effect on the sports sector”, described the media as the pillar on which sports rests. He said apart from multi-billion-dollar television deals without which sports will revert to what it was decades ago, “a mere recreational exercise with just medals as rewards. Media scrutiny ensures sanity and discipline in the industry and ensures the sustainability of the sector through reports.”
He highlighted match-fixing, illegal betting, insider information, bad governance, conflicts of interests, use of clubs as shell companies, doping, fraud, bribery and nepotism as the major corruption issues in the Nigeria sports sectors citing various examples, all of which kill sports. He urged media owners to support their reporters and encourage them to produce investigative stories.
Thomas said “There should be effective collaboration between the media, civil society organisations and the anti-graft agencies to cure the sports system of corruption. The media should also make radical efforts to rid itself of corruption.” Quoting Naomi Klein, he echoed “Journalists make choices at key moments in history, they aren’t mere spectators.”
Godwin Enakhena, former Chairman of MFM Football Club who spoke on “Media reporting on sports development in Nigeria; Favouring corruption or working for the common good?” said corruption is seen in sports but journalists need to go forward to proof the cases.