Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Agreeing to Host the World

Barely a week after it announced Nigeria’s inability to host next year’s Federation of International Football Association’s (FIFA) World Cup due to cash crunch, the Federal Government did a rethink and accepted to go ahead with hosting the world youth soccer championship. This was after the initial budget of N37 billion was drastically scaled down to N9 billion.
The government, through former Sports Minister, had earlier written to the global soccer governing body, FIFA that the country lacked the capacity to deliver a world-class event as it was faced with a myriad of challenges including a deficit budget and the effects of the global financial meltdown. The letter informed FIFA that “Government efforts are now being channelled towards pruning down on expenditure and in the light of challenges confronting Nigeria, it regrets its inability to host the U-17 World Cup as earlier undertaken”.
Government’s earlier repudiation of the hosting agreement it entered into with FIFA two years ago could be traced to the scary N37 billion budget submitted to it by the event’s Local Organising Committee (LOC). Not even the hurried review of the budget to N35 billion could persuade the government of the feasibility of the project. And so, it initially appeared as if the Yar’Adua administration had made up its mind not to have anything to do with the 2009 junior world football championship, which it said was not on its priority list, until a sudden u-turn about a week later.
Several reasons have been given for the policy reversal. They include the fear of FIFA’s sanctions and possible damage the breach of agreement could do the country’s external image and the development of its youth soccer in particular.
But now that the country has managed to avoid these untoward repercussions by agreeing to host the championship as planned, we are still worried about what the international community would think about our leaders. Why, for instance, would the government take such precipitate, spur-of-the-moment decision when it was clear that all remedial avenues had not been exhausted? This apparent indiscretion has brought a lot of embarrassment not only to the government but also to the country. It would appear that the Presidency over reacted on theN37 billion-budget proposal and that shouldn’t have been the sole basis for foreclosing the hosting of the championship. If the government thought the budget was unrealistic, as it surely was, it could have called for its downward review rather than resorting to throwing the baby away with the bath water.
Although some Nigerians have said the revised budget may be too low to host a global event of that magnitude, we want to believe that the Local Organising Committee showed lack of sincerity and concern for the country’s financial position. This definitely cannot continue. What Nigeria needs now as we finally prepare to host the U-17 World Cup next year is a body of genuine patriots to organise a tournament that would be economically rewarding to the country and ultimately beneficial for the development of its game of soccer. The LOC should be spared selfish people who think more of what would accrue to their individual pockets from the “spoils” of tournament hosting. Every effort must be made to ensure that the country maximises the gains of hosting the games, which must include brilliant performance of our team at the tournament as well as a boost to the nation’s economy. The nation’s dilapidated sports infrastructure are also expected to benefit a great deal from hosting the tournament, as they must be enduringly rehabilitated. It is only an efficient LOC that can achieve these lofty goals