Obi ‘ll change the face of Nigerian sports – Okpala

By Alexander Johnson Adejoh

We lag behind in everything.

“Let me take, for instance, football. Nigeria is affiliated to FIFA. There are rules and regulations called statutes on how to administer the sport. Do we follow FIFA Statutes? Check it out, those countries that are doing well in the world, they follow the FIFA Statutes. Obi said under his Presidency, Nigeria will be made to follow those rules because he believes in the rule of law and order.

Those countries that are doing well have rules for administrators, for coaches, for players and rules for even the fans. But Nigerians are not following those rules. In Nigeria, a player who has served out his contract cannot still walk away as a free agent. Clubs still insist on getting a share from his new contract, whenever he secures a new club.

This is wrong. Another bad example of what I see as a breach of contract is that clubs put players on transfer even months after signing on the players. Some fail to pay salaries as and when due.”

He said that when contracts are respected, players are motivated and everything done according to the rules, Nigerian sportsmen and women will churn out good results. He believes with good results and consistency Nigerian sports can market itself and attract sponsors.

Packaging and Sponsorship:

“Peter Obi’s philosophy is not to ask people for money before he starts any project. He believes in starting well with  good organisation. Even his political campaign which, under six months, has grown into a movement, he never believes in asking people for money.

He said if what you start is done well, it will naturally attract people who, in their own volition, will want to contribute to the success of the project. This also relates to sports. For instance, if Nigeria had won the Africa Cup of Nations or qualified for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, would Nigerian football be looking for sponsors? The answer is no, because a good product sells itself.

“If our league was well packaged, wouldn’t sponsors be running to sponsor the league? Everybody wants to identify with a winner because in sports, the winner takes all. And that is what Peter Obi is saying.

Organize with the little you have, make a headway, let your good product show and people will key in. You don’t have to go cap in hand asking people for money to start a new project. You have to start from somewhere with the little you have and manage it well.

“When your product is good, sponsors will come in and want to be part of it. Every sponsor wants to get something in return for his investment.”

The English Premier League is a perfect example of a good product. There was football in England before the inception of the EPL. They sat down and repackaged the whole thing. Now rich people from all over the world want to buy English Premier League clubs because the league is viable.”

Sports as tool for national cohesion:

Okpala said Obi’s romance with sports originated from when he was a young man as a Rangers fan.

As a governor of Anambra state, Obi remained very close to former internationals, especially ex-Rangers players. He recognises the fact that Rangers is not just a traditional team, but also a movement of a race. He also recognises the role Rangers played in the reintegration of the Ibos into Nigeria after the civil war.

Recalled Okpala, “Obi said, as a young man, soon after the war, Ibos were all afraid to come to Lagos for fear of being killed. Everyone was afraid to leave the South East as a whole. Then Rangers came and started going out to win matches, going to Lagos to win, to Kano in the north and win matches, and so many other places.

The fans who went along with them experienced no intimidation or abuse. That was how some of the fans started settling in those places, including Lagos. The Ibos then realised that even among the military that fought against the Ibos, a good number of them were Rangers supporters.

He knows what sports can do in terms of youth empowerment and national cohesion. He knows sports offer the biggest window of opportunity to millions of youths. He has promised to pay special attention to sports when he becomes president, come 2023.”

His love for Rangers:

As governor of Anambra state and up till now, he is still very close to us ex-Rangers players. As Governor of Anambra State, he used to pay us stipends. Even those from outside the South East and those ex-Rangers who are abroad were beneficiaries of the stipends.

That time, whatever he was doing, he made sure he invited ex-Rangers players to the occasion. Till date, he still keeps a tab on all of us and wants to know how we are fairing. He is a sports lover who believes in the welfare of athletes and knows how to motivate them.