Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We’re unserious

WE are not serious! How can a nation that prides itself as a sports giant, of any hue, be unable to maintain football pitches to useable standards? How do our leaders feel knowing that we excel in doing things poorly, much to the embarrassment of those who look up to us?
Tuesday’s announcement that only two of the six facilities that Nigeria is proposing for the FIFA U-17 Championships are ready was not unexpected. It is only FIFA’s magnanimity, informed mostly by the fact that there are no alternative hosts at such short notice that saved the day.

FIFA's inspections of Nigeria stadia is one of the most scandalous enterprises in the world. It started in 1986 and has become a recurring insult on our collective conscience, except that the beneficiaries of this disgrace have carved a niche for themselves as experts in the promotion of the most astounding low standards.

Only in Nigeria do stadia fall into disrepair, months after they were used for international competitions and after millions of Naira have been committed to seeing them squeeze through FIFA’s standards.

Nigeria has been vacation destination for FIFA officials in the past 23 years with our officials expecting that FIFA would lower the standards to our own set ways of doing things badly. Nowhere else does FIFA go through the number of inspections that it does in Nigeria. It took more than 14 inspections for Nigeria to host the 1999 World Youth Championships. A year after, the same stadia that were used had to be renovated for the 2000 Nations Cup.

In other places people aim for the higher standards, in Nigeria we prefer the minimal marks that would earn us the hosting rights. This preference ensures that the facilities are in bad shape as soon as the competitions are over.

The corruption that results in poorly built, ill-maintained sports facilities that are perpetually under re-construction should engage the attention of anyone who is interested in getting Nigeria out of this morass.

“It is shocking for us to learn that work started not early enough on the facilities, in some venues just days before our coming here for the final inspection. They gave us flimsy excuses on why they were not ready. This is an indictment of Nigeria’s ability,” said Jack Warner, FIFA’s Vice-President, who has been involved in inspections in Nigeria since 1993. He was visibly disappointed with Nigeria. In 1995 FIFA moved the World Youth Championship from Nigeria to Qatar, less than a month to the event.

Why does the country endure this sort of disgrace everytime it wants to host a competition?

FIFA’s decision to give the other venues a-30 day extension creates more avenues for opportunists to make more money and maintains our attitude of doing the simplest things in the most complicated and confounding ways.

Whether FIFA grants Nigeria the final nod or not, the country has added to its reputation for poor standards.