As the Super Eagles get to set to commence final round of preparations for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke has charged the national team to see the championship as a golden opportunity to redeem its image. In a chat with sports journalists recently in Abuja, the minister pledged to collaborate with the National Sports Commission, NSC, to give Eagles all the necessary support. Excerpts:
With few weeks to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, what support do you think the government should give to the Super Eagles in their preparation and participation?
When we talk about government support, we have to know that government resources have become so lean but the demands on her resources have become so diverse and intense that government alone is not in a position to provide the resources with which the Eagles would have to win the Nations Cup. So it is very important for the private sector to see the participation of the Eagles in South Africa as a platform to deploy some of their own corporate social responsibility. Sports and culture are perhaps the most important platforms for cohesion amongst our people and it is important for us to re-establish our pride in our nation by getting government and the private sector to collaborate to promote sports and culture. I am looking forward to January in South Africa. We are hoping to work with the ministry of sports to present Nigeria, the biggest black nation on the face of the earth, a country of great sports men and women, soccer stars with great artistry and to encourage them to be able to bring glory to our country. It is going to be a unified effort by public-private sector, by private sector and by key stake holders.
What advice do you have for the Super Eagles ahead of the championship?
The super Eagles themselves must rekindle in themselves the sense of patriotism. I believe that when they get to the pitch, the favour and the expectations of Nigerians will propel them in their performances. Oftentimes, we find that frustration in our systems, frustrations in the beaucracy are transferred to the team and ultimately, affect the peak performance that was expected or would be expected of the team. There is need for us to work early and time is not friendly. As we speak, we have barely a few weeks to that great event. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We must establish a platform of collaboration, we must use sports as another platform for diplomacy.
The Nigerian village in South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup was one of the best. Are you looking towards something like that for the 2013 Nations Cup?
Well I didn't know what it was like to be honest with you because I was not part of its activation but I have spoken with the minister of sports and I know that whatever may have happened in 2010 or in the London Olympics, cannot match what the collaborative effort of the ministry of sports and the ministry of tourism, culture and national orientation can bring to bear working together. So we are going to deploy our energies, resources, creativity and of course serve as the pool to bring together the very best of Nigeria in order to reposition our country.
In concrete terms what would you say are the chances of the Super Eagles against defending champions, the Chipolopolo of Zambia and a host of other super powers on the continent?
The Nigerian team has a lot of potential and as we speak, when you recall a few of their past victories, these have sent tremor down the spines of other countries but then our problem has always been rising to the occasions when it matters most. Often times when we play leading to the championship, we play so very well but when we get to the championship, expectations fall short. So there is need for us to galvanise support for the team. The players only need to be more disciplined and committed. Today, size is no longer a factor because even smaller nations become so resolute and determined when they face Nigerian and we can no longer relax our guard because national pride and honour are at stake.
You have been watching the Super Eagles play, what would you say is the team's weak point that needs immediate solution for enhanced performance?
I like to call on our boys that when they score a goal, it is not the end of the game. In fact you do more to protect the goal that you scored than when it was scoreless. Oftentimes, if you recall some of our past games, you recall that when the Eagles score a goal that is very valuable, they over celebrate it and before they settle down, even to commence the rest of the game, they are already conceding a goal that cancels that out. This has been consistent with our teams. I have been a sports commentator since 1978 and I know that when the Super Eagles don't score in the first 15 minutes of a game there is general tension not just among the populace but also the players. They must try and score early to create the necessary stability in the team and its teeming supporters. Our players are playing very well abroad and the local ones are also doing very well but when you bring them together you find some missing element in commitment. Everybody is expecting the other guy to do the magic. And when that doesn't happen, you see that there is tension in the team.
You talked about collaboration with the sports ministry to support Super Eagles campaign in South Africa. Does this include mobilizing fans to go and support the team?
Well the super Eagles naturally have established themselves as the power house in the continent of Africa and would never lack the necessary support. However, there is also rumour around the continent that Nigerian Super Eagles are leaving on past glory and this will be an opportunity for us to correct this wrong impress. It is an opportunity for the Eagles to redeem their image. This is also an opportunity for us to galavanise support for the team. Let me tell you something. There is nowhere on the continent of Africa that you will find more citizens of others countries than Nigerians. So we have to work with our Nigerian community in South Africa, we have to work with our Missions abroad and also South African Mission because oftentimes, there are encumbrances that are placed on fans who want to travel and this depresses us a bit. But I am sure that with the leadership that the president has brought to the sector, with the focus on sports in general and soccer in particular, I am sure that we would garner the support that is needed to propel our team to a successful outing at the Nations Cup.