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Issues as PUMA jilts AFN

by Goddie Ofose
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Recently, the top sportswear manufacturing company, PUMA, terminated its four-year contract with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) over the failure of AFN to honor the sponsorship and licensing agreement it signed with the sport wear giant. PUMA entered a $2.7 million deal with the AFN under the leadership of Shehu Ibrahim Gusau in July 2019 in Doha. Part of the deal was the supply of sports apparel to all age categories of the Nigerian athletic team for four years at no cost. In addition, gold medalists at the Olympic Games were to be rewarded with $15,000 each, and silver and bronze medalists, $5,000 and $3,000 each respectively.

But with the failure of Nigerian athletes to don the PUMA kits at the just concluded Tokyo Olympics, due to a lingering leadership tussle, the sport wear company was left with no option but to call it quit. The problem actually arose from the long-drawn contention between the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, and factional President of AFN, Sheu Gusau, over the deal, which the sports minister claimed was shrouded in secrecy, as the details of the agreement were not disclosed by those that brokered it on behalf of AFN.

The end result was the shambolic performances and show of shame exhibited by the contingent at the Tokyo Olympics. To many concerned stakeholders, this current national embarrassment is nothing new; it is a permanent fixture in the country’s sports life. For instance, in 2016, Nigeria’s football team, otherwise called the Dream Team barely escaped disqualification from the Rio Olympics because they almost missed the first game against Japan, as they arrived just seven hours before the kick off.  The Dream Team VI captained by Mikel Obi was held back in USA because the chartered flight that was to fly them refused to leave until payment was made.

The then sports minister, Solomon Dalung, blamed the ‘logistical mix-up with payments’ as the cause of the national embarrassment. However, the Dream Team later won a bronze medal, which was the only medal Nigeria won at Rio. Before then, there was a revolt by the athletes, who refused to play games and matches for none payment of bonuses. In separate situation, but for similar reasons, our athletes refused to vacate hotel rooms, even after the team’s unceremonious exit from major competitions. The list is endless.

Commenting on this recent development, sports editor, the Nation newspaper, Ade Ojeikere noted that with the spate of controversies bedeviling it, it is obvious sports administration in Nigeria is jinxed. “I am really not surprised but rather miffed at the turn of events, as far as sports administration is concerned. We are not getting it right in all aspects of sport administration at all. The current issue plaguing us didn’t start today but has been with us for ages. If it is not football today, it will be athletics tomorrow. It’s almost like saying we are jinxed as a country.”

Continuing, he said: “The issue is not really about the actors in this whole drama but about the system that had thrown them up. I believe, if the system had been transparent enough, we wouldn’t have been in this quagmire caused by the over bloated egos of some individuals. In the first place, there is a need to understand how and why we got to this sorry pass. One needs to also know what those that are involved in this stampede intend to achieve by dragging the country’s reputation into the mud”.

He further added, “Sincerely speaking, I am still at a loss on why a contractual agreement can be made this controversial, considering the fact that it is between two legal entities. In most countries of the world, deals are signed and entered into without any major fuss but not so in this country. If you ask me, it beggars belief that we keep talking about individuals more than the associations or groups that these individuals are expected to act on their behalf. Again, we need to know how some of these individuals emerged in their capacities as representatives to ascertain if they are capable enough to act on behalf of the group or association”.

On the implications of the contract termination by PUMA on sport development in the country, Ojeikere hinted that it’s almost certain that future deals would be affected as potential partners are likely to become wary of doing business with our sports federations or associations. “Although it may be premature to predict the outcome of this issue, I suspect that PUMA may likely want to take a legal action against us for a breach of contract. This, no doubt portends great danger for future deals. We may not understand what has befallen us now, but by the time the impacts would be felt it would be too much for us to handle. If nothing is done to stem this tide, then I am afraid we are in for it. I don’t know how we intend to cope without sponsorship opportunities for our sports. The truth is, corporate sponsorships are sine qua non to sports development anywhere in the world. And, so, for us to now treat contracts on sponsorship with kid gloves obviously defy logical explanation, he concluded”.

Also reacting, a sport marketer, Toyin Adelakun, said the issue calls for deep reflection on the part of those who are in charge of sport development in Nigeria as the country cannot afford to watch its sports pride degenerates. “Our administrators obviously are not salvaging sports in this country. They sure need to get their house in order, if we are not to wake up one day and find out that all the good fortunes we have had in sports have fizzled out. This incessant impasse between our sport ministry and the federations must have to stop at some point. It’s certainly not in our best interest that there is no harmonious working relationship between these two parties. It is becoming a recurrent decimal, where the sport minister is always at loggerhead with president of sport federations. It’s been like this for long and one wonders when the persistent problem would be solved”.

“They must realize that the current PUMA/AFN crisis is undermining sport in this country. How does one explain that at the recent Olympics in Tokyo, our athletes breached the earlier agreement to wear PUMA uniform kits and track suits, at the directive of the sports minister?  It was indeed a big show of shame and I almost shed tears, seeing what our athletes had to go through, in order, to represent their country”, he said.

He therefore charged the administrators to brace up to their responsibilities to prevent a situation where most of our athletes would continue to prefer identifying with other countries that are serious with sport development. He cited instances of some Nigerians, who won laurels representing other nationalities at the recent Tokyo Olympics.

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