By AYODELE OKUNFOLAMI
IT is often said that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. The case of the Super Falcons, Nigeria’s women national football team, after the just concluded African Women Cup of Nations in Cameroun is different. They had brought joy to our nation by emerging champions for the tenth time but they returned as orphans without the usual pomp had the Super Eagles achieved the same feat. Sadly, the girls have been treated so unfairly causing them to refuse to vacate the Abuja hotel they were camped in after their return until their bonuses were paid in full.
It is, however, good that President Buhari has ordered the immediate release of N471m to settle allowances of the players. Aside tennis in which women fought hard and long for equal prize money in grand slams and maybe athletics, female sports worldwide is a shadow of male sports when it comes to remunerations. It took public outcry and litigations for the United States Women National Team to close the gap between themselves and their less successful male counterparts.
Therefore, asking for equal pay and treatment now may not be possible in the foreseeable future. However, the case of the Falcons is not that of discriminatory disbursement, it is that of complete neglect and disregard for contractual agreements. From the careless comments by the sports minister that the Falcons were not expected to win, to the recession reason given by the Minister of Information, this ugly incident could have been avoided.
What happens to appearance fees, camp and travel allowances of these players? Thornier is that one of the coaches and one of the girls lost their fathers in the course of the trophy winning campaign. So one can only imagine how the grieving girls played under the yoke of sorrow to grind out the hard fought victory. How thinkable can the sports ministry have bearish expectations of the girls when the annual budget for the entire nation is based on bullish crude prices? This argument is not just about performance of the girls, it is about funds allocated for the girls.
For crying out loud, how can the ladies believe there is a recession when they were returned in a chartered flight at government’s expense from Yaoundé? Does the overall extravagant lifestyle of our public office holders indicate any form of downturn in the land? The overbloated bureaucracy that is being maintained does not indicate we are in a recession.
Therefore, this premise is weak. I expected the Ministry of Finance or her Budget and National Planning counterpart to be the one doing the talking. They should explain how much was budgeted and how the money was dispensed to the sports ministry. And for an administration that talks much about transparency, due process and accountability, it will be surprising how these ministries were bypassed. If this is true, a clear explanation of where the monies came from should be made.
This embarrassing event is a playback of 2004 when the Super Falcons reportedly declined to quit a South African hotel where they lodged after they had won the AWCON until they were paid their bonuses in full. Stretching our memories farther, this is neither a Falcons problem nor a Nigerian sportswoman’s problem, it is characteristic of how everybody that has adorned the colours of Nigeria in sports have been (and are still) denied their claims. While we demand the full payment of any contractual agreements with athletes as and at when due, our sportspersons, like the Falcons, should be more and circumspect in dealing with untrustworthy sports administrators. Our athletes should first do away with the entitlement mentality that the society owes them a duty. What about servicemen and those that have one way or the other represented Nigeria? I think sportsmen themselves should know that they, like other ordinary Nigerians, are in the same boat of broken promises.
They should also bear in mind that their professions are age bound. After a certain age, let’s say 35, their shelf life expires. They should have the future in mind. Sports is a means to an end not an end itself. They should make hay while the sun shines by getting education or venturing into businesses. For example, continuous education will increase their human capacity thereby giving them more economic, intellectual and political capital to serve in the various sporting boards. They can rise from there to higher positions.
Others can be coaches or physical education instructors. Their education can make them pundits. They can even use their popularity to venture into politics or setting up foundations. Another way to help our sportsmen and women receive the fruits of their labour is to stop government’s deep involvement in the running of sports.
It has been proven everywhere in the world and especially Nigeria that government has no business doing business. In fact, in our case, government is a bad manager. If the private sector is involved in running sports, our athletes would enjoy endorsements that could boost their profiles beyond the frontiers of their respective sports.
The entertainment industry has shown the way despite its many challenges of unpaid royalties and piracy, yet, many of our musicians and actors are millionaires. Why not in sports? Sportsmen and women can be used as brand ambassadors.
Okunfolami writes via [email protected]