Ace handball goalkeeper, Sallau Saidu, of Safety Shooters, is of the belief that government should take away the burden of running sports and ‘force’ corporate organisations to take up the mantle and develop the industry.
When did you start playing handball and how long have you been playing professionally?
Eighteen years. I started when I was 12. I played in the under age groups like U-12, U-15 and I went to the Commonwealth U-18 in 1995. I joined the national team 2008 and until February last year.
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Let’s go down memory lane. How was your time in the national team?
We won the ECOWAS in 2002, Ghana Championship and took the fourth position in All Africa Games hosted by Congo Brazzaville and we were the champions of the West Coast.
I was the captain of the national team for eight years before I stepped down.
Recently, I have been recalled to the team.
Why did you step down?
I stepped down because three days to the championship, I lost my mum.
I was not psychologically fit and I didn’t want to compromise the team.
The hope is usually on the goalkeeper and when you don’t perform well, you lose the match.
You are a professional player. What are the secrets to your longevity in the game and what has kept you going?
To stay on top, all matches must be important to you.
We don’t compromise or underrate and must take every game serious.
Do you regret ever playing for Nigeria?
No, I don’t regret playing for Nigeria. This is my motherland.
I am aware that in the past, there were confirmed cases of players not being paid their entitlement and if they even get paid, it will be little. Can you tell us your experience in this regard?
It happens a lot because the first competition I went for, I was paid N30, 000 in 2006.
The mentality in this country is bad where it is football first and other sports follow.
I believe other federations should step up. In football, basketball, athletics, money was pumped in and the results are there.
Most federations don’t have their own places like the NFF.
If football can be under the Presidency, why can’t other sports be?
All of us wear the same Team Nigeria jersey and we play for the glory and good image of this country.
Football is the most popular sport in Nigeria. How can other sports get the limelight?
Many Nigerians don’t follow handball because the awareness is not there.
When I was in Gabon, the authorities made it compulsory for children to come watch handball and from there, some picked up the interest.
But in this country, maybe because of the economy and the high standard of living, Nigerians prefer to look for money to survive than to relax.
Watching sports is relaxing as it helps in promoting good health, making friends and forgetting about your stress.
Nigeria is in a good position to give every federation the allocation they demand. Each federation should have its own structure.
Nigeria is miles behind countries like Egypt, Tunisia but what are those unique strengths we have over them?
We are so blessed in this country that we have so much talented players.
We train for two or three weeks and win some championships and while some other countries spend months training but they don’t do so well at times.
Just imagine I camp for two weeks, eat local foods without a nutritionist advice and we go to championships and perform well.
But just imagine I am in camp for 2 months under the supervision of a nutritionist or dietician,
I will be the best. Those days, we used to win the Nations Cup but these days, we can’t.
The politics in sports is too much. The coaches are not being given proper funds to go for coaching courses.
What is the solution?
Every year, there are coaching courses, clinics, but they always say there is no fund.
If the government can force multinationals like Dangote, Bua cement ExxonMobil to sponsor sports, don’t you think the government won’t hands-off sports administration?
Reduce their tax and let the sponsors take over sports administration.
Look at First Bank in basketball, CBN in tennis for example.
We need investors to help develop sports in Nigeria.
What is sports to you?
Sports make you overcome challenges and become a better person.
It builds friendships and breeds discipline.
You are a very experienced player and will you be considering going into coaching when you hang up your boots?
For now, I don’t have interest in coaching.
I want to go back to school to acquire PhD.
But in handball, the older you become as a goalkeeper, the better and the more experience I garner.
There are many young players coming in and I told them to push me away and when you do that, I will be forced to retire but not without a fight.