Mallam Ibrahim Alarape Atanda was appointed Acting Director of Sports on July 1, 2020, and on April 19, 2021, he was appointed as substantive Director of Sports of the sports controlling parastatal. In a chat with sportsbash.com.ng, he talked about his appointment, Kwara’s exploit at the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, and other related issues. Excerpts
Between when you resumed and now, what are the challenges you noticed managing the Sports Council?
There is no assignment without challenges, but the difference depends on how you are able to manage the challenges. We that grew up in sports, we know all along that Coaching Department and Secretaries of associations work together. Like in this Council, having about 120 coaches is not too much for us. With 120 coaches, some of them will go to Local Government Areas and Zonal Offices.
Volleyball for instance, we have 16 Local Government Areas in the state. If we send one Coach to Offa, it will not be enough, because we have other communities in Oyun Local Government that will be expected to enjoy that benefit too. In volleyball alone, we need about 20 coaches, and we have 32 other sports to manage. Multiply 20 by the numbers of sports, we will be talking about over 200 coaches.
We are talking of development of sports from the grassroots, and that’s what Kwara is known for. We don’t buy athletes, but always make use of what we have to discover and nurture them. We need to do more to discover more athletes from the grassroots, and without coaches, it cannot be possible.
Presently, we have just 22 coaches at the Sports Council, which is grossly inadequate. All others are borrowed coaches, like Games Masters and ex-athletes that we encouraged to take up to the challenge….and they are dedicated. I didn’t regret that at all, because some of them won laurels for the state, like in Wushu Kungfu and judo.
You are now the substantive Director of Sports. What’s your reaction to the appointment?
I was appointed Acting Director of Sports on July 1, 2020, and was appointment as substantive Director of Sports last month, April. There is nothing much to say than to thank Almighty Allah, thank the Governor for the opportunity, and to thanks my management members, as well as all the staffers of the Council and Kwara athletes. We are in this together. I promise not to disappoint them all.
How would you describe Kwara’s performance at the recently concluded National Sports Festival?
I cannot judge us. It’s left for stakeholders to judge us not only on this, but what happened between then and now, precisely from the 1977 festival. All I know is, we are not there yet. We are still on transit. What I have at hand, and the long-term programme I have drawn for Kwara State Sports Council…..I still have many things to do for Kwara sports. What just happened is a tip of the iceberg. I just want to appeal to us that we should encourage our wards to take their education very serious, aside from sports.
Like me, I came in contact with squash, which brought me to limelight from Secondary School, at Government Secondary School, Ilorin. Before then, I don’t know any game called squash. I was into football and table tennis. I was also an athlete, then I was involved in 400m and 800m, and I was also a swimmer, and I played hockey. Those are my games before I joined squash. I learnt a lot from Coach Bola Magaji and Tunde Yahaya, who were my seniors in Secondary School.
Sports and education goes together. 99 percent of people in sports are youth. If government can invest properly in sports development, take the money off the Security Votes….because, an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. If you are meaningfully engaged, you won’t think evil. Our governments need to take full advantage of this. One of the best ways to engage and empower the youth is through sports. We have more than 32 sports events that they have to make choices from.
There are talents at the grassroots waiting to be discovered. That’s why I said government needs to assist us in appointment more coaches.
What really led to the success we recorded at the 29th National Sports Festival was….we did not get it right the way it is today for the past 22 months now, with this present government. In the last five or six years back, we didn’t attend national tournaments. If you notice some of our athletes at national tournaments, it’s with the assistance of the Chairmen and members of the associations. Despite all that, our athletes are determined and eager, because they know they have trained and they want to test their abilities outside.
But another problem is, if they are noticed by other states, we lose them because we don’t have the resources to retain them. When you nurture your athletes to stardom, you still have to maintain them, keep them and care for them, and if possible, employ them so that they can start a career, the way we also started.
I won a gold and bronze medal for Kwara State at the 1985 National Sports Festival in Kwara. The government then said all those that won medals should be engaged. That was how I got employment into the Council, and that was on October 1, 1986. I was given the appointment letter in July, and I was reluctant in coming because of the situation then.
The current administration in the state is really supporting our athletes to go for national tournaments, and that has given our athletes the advantage of knowing some of their opponents beforehand.
I am already preparing a blueprint….a template to work with, for the Sports Council. That was what I drew when I came on board, and I followed it to the latter.
When I came on board, I took statistics of all our athletes….those with WAEC results, those with either OND, NCE, HND and Bsc. They are close to about 368. But those that are medal hopefuls any day anytime are about 172. If you have the opportunity of engaging people, we can then employ some.
When I was employed in 1986, including some others then, it gave us the needed leverage. We trained regularly, and we are being thoroughly monitored by our coaches and the Head of Coaching. The coaches too were being assessed every month.
As the Director, I know each and every of the athletes and their parents very well, and I also have their contacts.
A lady that won medal in para-table tennis for Kwara, Kudirat Imam Fulani….Rivers State wanted her back, because she was sometimes with them. The boy that won gold in squash, Oluwaseun Gabriel is an indigene of Ogun state but was born here in Ilorin. Lagos State has been disturbing him for the past one year, to join them. What did we do? We got admission for him at Kwara State Polytechnic, so that we can keep him here. But we also have to be financially committed too.
Gabriel played about three national tournaments prior to the festival, and he won all. And at the festival, he defeated all his opponents.
In badminton too, Sofiat and Zainab as well as Romoke were impressive.
The rule of the festival states that, if a state is not financially committed to an athlete, he or she is free to represent a state of his choice.
Kwara won medals in some events that we have won medals for long, like in tennis. What’s the magic?
Thank you very much for mentioning tennis. You see, in the late 70s and early 80s, tennis was one of the strong areas for Kwara. But along the line, when we have no coaches for the sport, and there was no enough equipment to train with, and we also don’t have committed association members until now. Presently, they organise monthly trials, and each association members take turns to sponsor the trials. This has been on since last year, and that led to the turnaround in Edo 2020. We don’t have a coach in the sport till now.
In swimming, thank God His Excellency has approved the renovation of the swimming pool. In swimming alone, at the festival, we have up to 40 medals, but we did not field athletes even though we have them, because there is no facility to train them for the festival. By the time the renovation is completed, they will start training. We will also organise talent hunt to discover more talents. We also need the parents of the athletes to work closely with us to develop their wards, and also need committed association members.
What effect does staging of the State Sports Festival have on the state’s performance at the National Sports Festival?
I said earlier that when this government came on board, the Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq approved more than what was requested for, to stage the State Festival. And for the main festival, he approved money for both the open and close camping, as well as the festival itself. He knows what it takes, because he was a former state athlete. During the State Festival, the Governor and his Deputy were always around to watch and monitor the athletes. This shows they are committed to youth development. All these led to the feat we achieved at the festival. The Governor has laid another foundation, because we already have a culture, the culture of development, and he is supporting that culture.
The Governor has renovated the twin basketball and the twin volleyball courts, and the new eight glass back Squash Courts is under construction, in addition to the approval for the renovation of the existing Squash Courts. He has also assured that he will renovate the tennis courts, and the basketball court at the end of the handball courts. Also, the renovation of the handball courts is almost completed.
If you invest in the development of the youth, the future of the state is bright. Our former athletes that competed for other states in Edo state saw us in different mood.
I was about asking you about Kwara athletes that were poached by other state. What are you doing to bring them back?
Thank you. When I met some of the in Edo state, I asked them if they have seen any of our athletes, and if so, how do we look like? They confirmed they saw us differently. I then told them it’s time for them to come back home.
You need to see Kwara athletes at Edo 2020, especially during the Match Past. They were extra active and very happy, because we are good looking, unlike what we had before now.
Back to your question. I met them like I said, and advised them to come back home and start writing their own history too. It’s what they do today that people will use to judge them tomorrow.
When we were about to leave for Edo 2020, the question some people asked me was, what will happen there. I told them to forget about the athletes, that they will do well. I did my best, within the available resources, for them, and also motivated them well enough.
In 2018, Kwara won 12 medals with just one gold. In Edo, we won 44 medals with seven gold medals. What do you think we have learnt to do well apart from the motivation?
It’s consistency in training. We also had more equipment to train with, than what we used to have. Our athletes also attended more national tournaments.
I am very close to the athletes. I know over 90 percent of them very well, and I know them by their names. When I was the Head of Coaching, I go to all training venues to watch and monitor their trainings. I built up on that when I became the Director. And at the festival, they all displayed high level of discipline.
The athletes and their coaches have done the state proud. What should they be expecting, as appreciation?
The Special Assistant on Youth and Sports Development, Mallam Attahiru Ibrahim has said it all. He said that the Governor is happy with our performance, and is ready to receive the athletes. We have compiled our report and have sent it to the government. I know something good will happen.
Lastly sir, what is your message to the athletes, the coaches and the government?
Yes, to the athletes, I praise all of them. They are great. For those of them that did not win medals, they should not worry because there would always be another time. I would want to advise the athletes to go to school, because that’s what they will fall back on later.
For the coaches, what you don’t have, you can’t give. We need more dedication from them, and they should also improve on their knowledge, because sports has gone scientific.
To our Sports loving Governor, we thank him sincerely, for changing the face of sports in the state.
Whatever government is investing in sports is not a waste, because they are developing the youth, who are leaders of tomorrow.
We will keep asking for more from the government. And that’s why we will keep seeking his support to increase our monthly subvention. We need to employ more coaches. We also need our own Ambulance and buses.
I want to use this opportunity to thank the Office of the Head of Service, Kwara United FC and others, who assisted us to transport our athletes to and fro Edo state for the festival. I want to thank the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Kwara chapter, and all those that assisted us before, during and after the festival. They are all part of our success story. We thank them all.