IT was heartwarming when Solomon Dalung, Minister of Youth and Sports, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari has fulfilled his promise to reward the nation’s winning women basketball team, aka D’Tigress, at this year’s Afrobasket Championship which held in Bamako, Mali. Each member of the victorious team got N1million while their five coaches got N500,000 each, bringing the total cash reward to N17.5m.
It is gratifying that the recognition came to a sport other than football. Nigeria is by no means a one-sport country. We also participate in athletics, boxing, wrestling, table tennis and basketball, which have in the past brought honour to the country.
We are, therefore, glad that President Buhari has redeemed the promise he made to the victorious D’Tigress team and its coaching crew when he met with them on August 30.
Successive governments have, in the past, made several such promises to victorious national sports teams and their coaches, but they were never redeemed.
This habit of making false promises to our sportsmen is neither good for them nor the country. It has the effect of dispiriting them and reducing from their potential to win laurels at international competitions. Only recently, it took the fortuitous return of this same President Buhari to redeem the promise he made to the all-conquering Under-17 (Golden Eaglets) football team of 1985 at the maiden World Under-17 male football competition in Japan. Successive governments ignored the promise, forgetting the unique significance of the accomplishment.
Even now, there are a number of victorious sports teams which are yet to receive honour and appreciation. The successful wrestling team to the World Championship in Paris, France, and Haruna Quadri’s exploits on the world stage in table tennis and this year’s Polish Open are just two that particularly stand out. Government, at all levels, must understand the import of rewarding successful national and local sportsmen and women and, indeed, other categories of citizens who bring honour to the country. It is a very positive way of telling them that their exertions for the country are appreciated and that the nation expects them to do more.
Sports remains a veritable tool for galvanizing the youths and the generality of the citizenry for national causes. The government must, therefore, put the accent it deserves on it. Sports also offers a rich bag of opportunities for job creation and economic advancement of any nation that understands and taps its enormous potentials. Nigeria, especially at a time when all hands need to be on deck and when all available resources need to be mobilised to enhance national development, must never again be found wanting.
More than even rewards and cash gifts for successful sporting teams, the need for a better organisation of all sports and optimum support for our sportsmen and women is imperative. It is only when these two imperatives are in place that we can hope to win laurels at international competitions. The potential to achieve this has never been in doubt, as our sportsmen and women continue to do the nation proud even in the face of poor and sometimes embarrassing preparations for sports events.
As Dalung rightly noted at the cash presentation event to the D’Tigress, recognition by one’s government has the immediate effect of motivating such sportsmen to higher achievements in subsequent outings. For the D’Tigress and the rest of our athletes, the World Cup in Spain next year and the Commonwealth Games billed for Gold Coast, Australia, in April 2018, beckon.