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Yusuf Alli: In Edo we develop athletes, others poach from us

The Chairman of the Edo State Sports Commission (ESSC), and former Nigerian long jumper, Yusuf Alli, has said unlike other states that believe in poaching,…

The Chairman of the Edo State Sports Commission (ESSC), and former Nigerian long jumper, Yusuf Alli, has said unlike other states that believe in poaching, Edo is developing the talents that abound in the state. In this interview with Trust Sports, the three time Olympian whose national record of 8.27 set in 1989 is still standing, spoke on sports development in Edo State, the support from government, the 2023 Africa Games in Accra Ghana and what he wants to be remembered for when he leaves office.

As the Chairman of Edo State Sports Commission, how satisfied are you with sports development in the state?

Edo state is doing very well in sports development. We have the best sports facilities in Nigeria. Recently, Edo was given the best award in terms of facilities. The state government has put in place world class sports facilities, not only in Benin City but in other parts of the state as they have one thing or the other in terms of sport facilities. Edo is the only state that has taken sports to the grassroots. Sports is part of our school curriculum. Schools have two hours of sports in a week and there are mini stadia across Edo. Local governments have sports units or sport committees and we buy sports equipment for all local governments which are used for sports development. When we came on board two years ago, the governor gave us the mandate to groom 10,000 athletes in five years meaning that we have to develop 2,000 athletes every year and we have already surpassed that. I think when it comes to sports development, Edo is one of the best in the country. Edo is one of the states that don’t poach athletes because we groom our own athletes. The governor has said we should develop our athletes and even if they are poached by other states, they will still represent Nigeria. 

But there are concerns over the dearth of grassroots competitions where hidden athletes can be discovered. What is your take on this?

That is not true. At the last two national sport festivals, the athletes that represented Edo State were all from Edo or resided in Edo and we went to schools to get them. If you look at the last National Youth Games in Delta state, all our athletes were from secondary schools in Edo state or those living in Edo. We don’t buy athletes and the governor stated clearly that we shouldn’t poach. We are not going to buy athletes but groom our own athletes. At the last two school festivals, we took second and third positions. Those that run for Edo are indigenes or their parents reside here. We don’t go outside to get athletes. We train our athletes here and those that don’t train here are from Edo but live abroad. We bring them back home for competitions and after the game they go back to their schools because all of them are students and we believe in student athletes. In Edo, we ensure that our young athletes are students before going into sports. We are always hosting competitions where we grow athletes. Last year alone we hosted over 90 competitions.

Would you say the support from the government for sports development is enough?

Sport is capital intensive. We must invest money in sports, if we want to compete with other countries, because if you look at what comes out of sports with what the government is doing, it shows that with more support a lot can be achieved. But the private sector must step in as the government alone can’t do it. However, what the government must do is to provide the enabling environment and the facilities. So, the bottom line is that the government should provide the facilities and once the facilities are there, sport will thrive and go back to what it was.

How are you motivating your athletes? Is their welfare package good enough to sustain their interest?

I don’t think the issue of wages is a problem because Edo is paying N40,000 minimum wage which is the highest and our athletes are on yearly contracts. Their money is good compared to other states. For those who are on contract, if you do well, we retain you. In football, both the male and female teams (Bendel Insurance and Edo Queens) are among the highest paid in the country and their money comes before the end of every month.

You must have followed the just concluded Africa Games in Ghana. Would you say Nigeria has the capacity to end Egypt’s dominance of the games?

If you recall in 2003 when we hosted the All African Games, we beat Egypt and have over 90 medals. If you also compare the last African Games before Ghana hosted the recent edition, you will see a little improvement but I think the problem is not really the government but that of individual athletes, the coaches and the efforts they are putting in. It is not only in sports. We have issues in Nigeria now. If you look at all the sectors, everything is going down. But I am glad that things are moving up and getting better now and Nigeria will be what she used to be. 

How soon is the Ogbe Hard Court International Tennis coming back? What is delaying the return of the famous tournament?

It will come up in November. Governor Godwin Obaseki wants the Ogbe Hard Court revived. He has done everything possible and put machinery in motion and I am certain we will see the return of the international tournament before the end of this year?

What can you remember about your days as an athlete?

In my days, it was a matter of first being a student and an athlete because being a student gives you the ability to assimilate because you would read and when a coach tells you something you can easily grab it. We had very good coaches then and that is one thing we are missing in the country now. We don’t have the kind of coaches we are supposed to have. In those days coaches went for training and seminars abroad. They were trained and retrained and that was what made us perform. In Edo, that is what we are doing. We train our coaches, send them on seminars and refresher courses because they will impact the new techniques on the athletes. It is just a matter of having the right coach, the right programme and approach. Athletes can still do well and I just hope that we follow the trend of the world whereby you rely on coaches to train your athletes. Here in Edo, we make sure that coaches train the athletes and not the athletes training themselves. When you go to some states, you see senior athletes training young athletes.

What would you want to be remembered for after your tenure?

I want to be remembered for doing the right things and leaving a mark in Edo sports. In my active days, I set some records. I set a national record of 8.27 during the All African Championships in Athletics in Lagos in 1989. I also did 8.39 at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Oakland in New Zealand in 1990. The national record is still there since 1989 and I know it is going to take a while to be broken because when you jump 8.27f in the air it is not easy.


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