by Yomi Kazeem
In July 1990, Germany were world champions of football after lifting the World Cup in Italy. They seemed on the cusp of dominating the international game for years to come but only ten years later at the European Championships in Holland and Belgium, they disgracefully crashed out during the group stage without winning a game and conceding five goals. It was evident that something was critically wrong with German football and that ‘something’ was found out to be a dearth of quality youngsters.
Swift action was taken with input from German sport administrators and the government. A year on, 121 talent centers were set-up across Germany to teach technical skills to young footballers between the age of 10 and 17.
They did not stop there. The German football association also mandated all first and second division clubs to build youth academies that were centrally regulated. A failure to do this resulted in the withdrawal of such a club’s license to play in the league. The Germans identified a problem and tackled it decisively- from the root.
It appears the recently reconstituted National Academicals Sports Committee is admirably following the same direction. The Committee (one of the better ones formed under the current administration) is initiating a series of programs, competitions and events seemingly with a ‘catch them young’ theme.
The primary charge of NASCOM is to ensure that competitive sports in schools across the country are revived, facilitated and enhanced to ensure that the next generation of sportsmen and women in Nigeria are identified early and consequently nurtured. Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?
The Committee is reportedly working closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure a seamless execution of its goals. It does not stop there. The Committee is also expected to carry out effective scouting in the diaspora and hopefully stem the tide of losing fine athletes to foreign nations. In theory, all of these are music to the ears and one hopes that this committee, already four months old, not only sticks to its goals but also achieves them.
Is the NASCOM a sensible model? Absolutely. All across the world, as was proven in the aforementioned example of Germany, paying close attention to athletes from a young age reaps bountiful rewards.
For German football, the actions taken in 2002 have paid off as 19 of the final 23 man squad that reached the semi-final of the last World Cup in South Africa came from the football academies set up years earlier. In Nigeria, Olympic medalists like Mary Onyali and Chioma Ajunwa were discovered through the school system as well. If it worked once, it can be made to work again.
While the NASCOM’s theoretical outlook seems ingenious, it is only half of the equation. The members of the board led by Chairman Yemi Idowu will require unwavering support from the powers that be to ensure that success is achieved. They will also require funding because glory does not come cheap.
The successful German experiment came at a cost of $16 million dollars over five years but the good thing is that every penny can be accounted for. In Nigeria, where money is capable of growing appendages and taking a walk, one hopes that the members of the board are not cut from the same cloth as our more famous looters.
At the last Olympics in London, Team Nigeria returned as they had departed- without a medal. The usual rants and theatrics took center stage but after a short while, predictably all the noise quitened and everyone went about their normal business except certain folks behind the scenes at the Ministry of Sports who have shown in recent times following the success of the Super Eagles of Nigeria that all hope may not be lost afterall. Many have termed the Super Eagles win as an unintended occurrence but if years from now the activities of NASCOM pay dividends and produce gold medal winning athletes tomorrow who will emulate, maybe even eclipse, the lofty achievements of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Bradley Wiggins, it will not have been an accident.