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Glasgow 2014: Team Nigeria’s Target Is To Surpass Previous Records – Elegbeleye

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Hon Gbenga Elegbeleye is the director- general of the National Sports Commission (NSC). In this first eleborate interview since being appointed DG of the NSC, he opens up on the issues affecting sports development to our man SALIFU USMAN. Excerpts

The fortunes of Nigerian sports appears to be on the rise under the present NSC. What are the efforts being put in place to sustain the successes recorded in the last one year?
I don’t want to agree with the saying that my coming to the National Sports Commission brought tremendous successes. I am an agent of Mr President and the man is a sports loving President but because he can’t be everywhere, he appointed us to represent him in sports. Everything we do is based on his instructions. He is the one driving sports because we are only implementing his policies. So, the credit of our successes in sports should go to Mr President because he is the one driving sports and giving us results.
The National Sports Commission has been in existence before the coming on-board of the present administration but we have never had it so good like this in sports. So, it is the
determination and commitment of Mr President to drive sports that is making us succeed. Every effort towards sports development is just Mr President’s initiatives and directives.
All the accolades and credits in sports go to him because he is a sports loving person.

Commonwealth Games is fast approaching, what are NSC’s targets?
Our target is to surpass what happened in ‘Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games’ in India and that was why our athletes have been in camp. But I am surprised to hear people say the Athletics Federation of Nigeria is unserious. They are not serious but were in camp for six weeks and are expected to resume camping any moment from now? Our athletes went to Mauritius for African Athletics Junior Championship winning medals in all events they participated in. Every member of the team won a medal which is another big kudos for Mr President’s sports transformation.
Our wrestlers just came back from a competition in South Africa and they were in camp before they went to South Africa. The weightlifters also just came back from Malaysia where they won eight gold medals. We sponsored them to go there as part of our preparation for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. They were in camp here in Abuja for a long period of time before going to Malaysia. We hosted African Weightlifting Championship (AWC) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. We have been on in all sports trying to promote them and keep our athletes in fine
shape ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. All our athletes in various sports have been getting the best treatment they can get in terms of welfare and competition so that when they get to Commonwealth Games proper they would be able to compete with their counterparts from other countries and come back to Nigeria with medals. We want to surpass all our previous performance in Commonwealth Games and I can assure Nigerians that we will definitely do so in Glasgow no doubt about it.

You advocated for proper funding of sports federation when you were in the National Assembly, but people say what you preached then is not what you are practicing now as the DG of the sports commission?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the federations are saying that they are not being properly funded. But AFN for instance, keep saying that what we are doing for them in terms of funding and camping of their athletes is unprecedented in the history of Nigeria, yet I am not practicing what
I preached while I was in the National Assembly. The Handball Federation of Nigeria just came back from Mexico where they finished third in a world tournament. We gave them the money that took them there. Our weightlifters were in Malaysia and it was us that financed them to go there. Our boxers were also in Uzbekistan and two other countries, the wrestlers were also sponsored to South Africa for a competition. Various federations have been telling us that we are good to them compared to the past because they now have opportunity to compete with the rest of the world.

Then how best do they want us to do it?
It is on record that what we are doing for sport federations is far above what it used to be few years ago. Go and ask the federation presidents or secretaries. So where do we now start getting knocks from?
This is February and we have not received subvention for the past two months. We told federations that have competition to suspend it till we start getting money to give them. But some of them said they would finance themselves and when we get money we should reimburse them and we said there is nothing bad in that. About the volleyball players in Cameroon, I am always in constant talk with Engineer Habu Gumel, president of Volleyball Federation of Nigeria. He is currently in Russia for this Winter Olympic Games because he is a member of the IOC and I even spoke with him on Sunday about them.

What is the idea behind the Open National Sports Festival, what does the NSC want to achieve from it?
The 19th National Sports Festival is open to all Nigerian athletes home and abroad. Every athlete can come and compete and this is the very first edition to have that. We separated it from the Youth Festival. The first edition of the National Youth Festival was held last year here in Abuja. We don’t want those young kids to compete with the elite athletes. If you compete and you are able to meet certain standard it means you are a budding talent to be moved into our high performance system. It is an attempt to get the young ones and rate them according to their abilities. For instance, if I won U-17 championship outside the world, I wouldn’t be judged to be on the same level with a 25-year old man in Nigeria. Let separate the men from the boys. Let the boys compete together and the men compete on their own. If then we see the prospects of moving them into our high performance system, we take them there and develop them.
So, this year, the National Sports Festival is an open festival and it will be hosted by the Cross River State Government. It is the first of its kind in a centenary year that also makes it a very unique one. Our best in the world will be available for this festival.

One of the sports that has not been fully explored in Nigeria is swimming in spite of its abundant opportunities?
We have a lot of swimmers from the riverine areas, but the kind of water they swim in is not of Olympic standard. Swimming in a natural river is quite different from competitive swimming pools used in Olympics or any international competition. If I dive and stroll in a water you can’t judge me to be a swimmer. Swimming has its techniques and there is difference between swimming and diving. In swimming, there is what we call back-stroll, butterfly and many other styles that get you medals. We need to penetrate these riverine areas where we have good swimmers, fish them out and develop them. But we have to first put in place standard swimming pools for them to compete well and improve on their skills. That was why we are talking of facilities development. Last week some people came to discuss water polo which will be good in areas where we have waters. In our next budget we are going to make provision for funds to build standard swimming pools to develop our swimmers so that they can compete favourably with their counterparts around the world.

The 2014 World Cup is just four months away and one issue that continues to generate controversy is the issue of Technical adviser for Keshi. What is NSC’s position?
As far as the NSC is concerned, that is NFF’s problem. I don’t think NFF has ever discussed any issue that has to do with technical adviser with us. I never heard it from them. So, I don’t really know where the information about technical adviser for the coach is coming from. I
don’t know why that becomes an issue since the NFF board or its president has said anything about it. I have never heard NFF president telling me or suggest anything to me about a technical adviser. In fact it was never muted by the NFF that they want a technical adviser, so I don’t know the source of the information.

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