The acting Director of Sports in the FCT, Luka Istifanus has frowned at the reckless poaching of athletes by the big money spenders as he vowed that the FCT won’t go about paying athletes to win National Sports Festival medals.
In this interview with Trust Sports, the acting Director spoke on the performance of Team FCT at Edo 2020 and sports development in the Federal Capital Territory.
- Malami: Prominent Nigerians financing terrorism will be prosecuted
NPA debacle: Hadiza Bala-Usman faces panel over N165.3bn ‘unremitted’ funds
How has it been since you assumed office as the acting Director of Sports in the FCT?
So far, so good. I took over as the acting Director of Sports in the FCT on the 8th day of October 2020 and since then my major concern has been how to take sports in the territory beyond where I met it. It has not been easy because FCT is more or less a civil service settlement. You cannot compare it with states like Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Kaduna and others. However, we are doing everything to improve on the achievements we recorded in the past. Interestingly, the Federal Capital Territory Administration is solidly behind us.
FCT placed 16th on the medals table at the just concluded 2020 National Sports Festival. How satisfied are you with the performance of your athletes?
I must start by saying that I was the happiest person when the administration of the FCT approved that we should participate in the 2020 National Sports festival. Although there is still room for improvement, I will say that I am satisfied with what we were able to achieve. Looking back, we have always been 17th, 18th or 19th apart from when we hosted the sports festival in 2004 and 2018. You know when you are the host, you have so many advantages. You can patronise as many events as possible. You can register as many athletes as you want. However, when you are going out, you have to cut down the number of events and athletes to minimise cost. So I am happy that this time around, we didn’t host but ended up in the 16th position despite the enormous challenges we faced. Two states, the host Edo and Delta battled for supremacy and that impacted negatively on officiating. We could have performed even better but questionable officiating denied us so many medals. We were not the only victims of the supremacy tussle between Edo and Delta. In all, we are grateful because we performed better than 21 states. With the support of the government, we would perform better at Delta 2022.
The National Sports Festival is now open. How did your athletes cope with their more experienced opponents?
It was not an easy task because some states went as far as the USA, France and Germany to hire athletes. Like in tennis, the player who won the singles event came from France and was paid the sum of N5 million by Delta State. Some states brought as much as 30 professionals outside the country which was a whole lot of money. Remember in addition to government money, they have oil companies that are their sponsors. But here in FCT, we depended solely on government funding. A state gave as much as N15m to one of its officials to ‘monitor’ proceedings for it in combat sports. That is the money that some states struggled to get to attend the festival. For us, even before we left for Benin City, our minister charged us to be responsible to our behaviours, to be worthy ambassadors. He advised that we shouldn’t try to win by all means. That was his farewell message to us and we abided by it. We didn’t go outside FCT to look for athletes. It has been the policy of the FCT to raise athletes from the grassroots and expose them for national and international competitions. And that was exactly what we did. We paraded the youngest athletes at the festival but they did their best against the professionals.
Do you support calls in some quarters for the National Sports Festival to be returned to when it was strictly for amateurs?
Throwing it open to some extent has advantages but disadvantages are more. The biggest disadvantage is that it is making coaches to be lazy. Coaches are paid salaries but when it is time for the sports festival, they are given money to go round and poach athletes from other states. I remember during the 2018 edition, some athletes were forced to refund as much as N1m for failing to deliver medals to states that contracted them. This is definitely not helping in the development of talents. For instance, it took the France based tennis who represented Delta State less than 10 minutes to eliminate my player in the men’s singles event. That was how so many other players were denied the opportunity to exhibit their talents. The sports festival is now for the highest bidder but FCT won’t buy medals. We don’t have money to hire athletes to win medals. We shall continue to raise our own local athletes.
What suggestions would you proffer to discourage the poaching of athletes which you said is usually carried out by the big money spending states?
Honestly, we must go back to the grassroots. FCT has 62 wards. Each area council has 10 words except AMAC that has 12. Sports development must start from the ward level. In the past, FCT organised so many competitions from the ward level but mostly in team sports like football, handball, volleyball and athletics. These are events that are not capital intensive. We usually start from the wards to the area council headquarters and to the city centre. This is the platform that has continued to generate athletes for the FCT. So I am calling on other states to emulate the FCT in developing their own athletes.
Talking of developing athletes, would you say there are enough and standard sporting facilities in the FCT?
We have six sports centres that are under construction in each of the six area councils. Already, we have made a strong appeal and the Hon. Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu has already visited some of the facilities. She has been to Kuje and AMAC and is planning to go to Bwari and others to see the level of development. With the backing of the Honourable Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Musa Bello, she is doing everything to ensure these facilities are completed. We have also made requests for sporting equipment in sports like karate, judo, boxing, wrestling and a host of others. We are expecting favourable responses.
What are the plans for the next edition of the sports festival?
We have started training already because the next edition is less than one and half year away. So we have started preparations and we have since made requests and recommendations to enable us to prepare adequately for Delta 2022.