‘Govt needs to make corporate bodies fund rugby, other sports’
NIGERIA’s Rugby Captain, Azeez Ladipo, has stated that one of the factors hindering the development of rugby and other sports in Nigeria is poor funding and lack of a developmental programme by government to revamp it.
Ladipo, who called on the government to enact a law that would mandate every corporate organisation to sponsor a particular sport, said this would go a long way in making rugby popular like football in order to make people show interest in the game.
Speaking on the growth of rugby in the country, he said: “Rugby development has been rather slow because we did not spend much time in grooming players in their formative stages. However, the Nigeria Rugby Federation Football Federation (NRFF) has been able to reposition the game in the aspect of introducing a harmonised league spread across the country and you will agree with me that there has been increased awareness of the sport.
“Now we have the Northern league, South West League and South South/South East League running at once. There is also the iTry Rugby school programme, which is aimed at developing the game in schools and another one is ‘Get into Rugby’ programme aimed at discovering talents in schools and grassroots. This programme is yet to kick off due to paucity of funds.”
In the area of coaching, the Black Stallions captain noted that over 50 of them have gone through world rugby certified courses last year as measures to develop the game in Nigeria. “Our international representation bounced back after we participated at the Africa Cup 7s North in Togo where we secured spots at The All Africa Games (AAG) and Olympic 7s qualifiers to be held in South Africa in November. Our 15s team just returned from Zambia where we narrowly missed out on promotion from Africa Cup 1C to 1B”.
Bearing his mind on other sundry issues in the game of rugby, Ladipo said the women have also joined their male counterparts in playing the sport. He however urged NRFF to critically pay attention to women’s rugby. “You need to watch our girls play, they are very strong and fast. I think we have a great chance to become Africa’s power house in our women. It will be fair to say rugby is now amongst the fastest growing sport in Nigeria.”
The Black Stallions captain stated that the team’s quest to qualify for the Olympics would be a hurricane task, but that notwithstanding, Ladipo has assured that the team will not rest on its oar to achieve that feat.
He said the much needed fund to have the best preparation for the Olympic qualifiers slated to hold in South Africa later this year would soon start. “Preparations for the Olympic qualifiers will soon commence. The technical team is planning to bring in more hands to boost the technical bench of the team. In the game of rugby, there is no Messi or Ronaldo; every player must contribute to the success of the team. A coach must get the best players to achieve victory. Luckily, South Africa has already qualified for the Olympics due to their top performance at the 2015 World Rugby HSBC 7s series. What this means is that two Olympic slots are still up for grabs with the likes of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Tunisia eyeing these slots. It is important for our core 7s team players to play regularly for our various clubs (Home and abroad).
“If funding comes in and we are able to go through the high performance training before November, we just might be on the road to Rio next year.”
On the sponsorship aspect of the game, Ladipo noted that getting sponsors for rugby has not been easy for the national team. “Sponsorship is the most critical part of sports. It is impossible to be amongst top sporting countries like the USA, China, France and even South Africa if sponsorships do not come through and the funds well managed. The NRFF has struggled to secure adequate sponsorship to actualise its various programmes. Thanks to CMB Building Maintenance & Inv Co Ltd, a real estate firm in Lagos and also some individuals who deep hands into their pockets to keep the game going.
“CMB has continuously sustained rugby at all levels for about 10 years by funding the national team, the league, a club side and women/schools rugby. The national team has not done badly as regards rankings. Nigeria is 13th ranked country in Africa and 75th in the world. If more sponsorship comes through, the NRFF will actualise its lined up programmes especially our international representation, schools rugby and training more coaches and referees.”
Also speaking on the participation of Nigeria youths in the game, he said that the turnout has been impressive in the country. “The awareness of rugby is fast growing in Nigeria, clubs have emerged in the South and North Central leagues. I am pleased to see schools playing rugby now through the iTry programme and I’m certain more schools will get involved as soon as ‘Get Into Rugby’ programme is able to kick off.
The boys and girls who participate in this programme will potentially develop into big rugby players in the future. We witnessed increased participation after the Gateway Games in 2006 and Kadar Games in 2009 respectively. Our participation depleted when rugby was excluded at the Lagos Sports Festival.