Former Senate President and sports enthusiast, David Mark, says with the right incentives, the Super Eagles could win AFCON 2019 in Egypt. He also speaks about his love for golf:
How important is sports to Nigeria?
I think we should encourage sporting activities not only because of the unifying factor but because it’s gaining popularity around the world.
For example, Brazil is known for football. Latin American countries are also known for football, and there are a lot of smaller countries beginning to gain prominence through sports, whether football, athletics, hockey, tennis or table tennis.
The important point is that it is a major unifying factor and if we can encourage sports, the sky will be the limit and this country will be great.
What do you think about the resumption of the National Sports Festival in December last year?
Well, I will by all means preach that we encourage sports in this country because that’s one of the unifying factors for all of us. During the festival, all the sportsmen and women came together, nobody was talking about the part of Nigeria where he or she comes from.
They just wanted to compete as sportsmen and women. Anytime there are sporting activities we are all united, nobody worries about religions, nobody worries about ethnicity, and nobody worries about the state. So, it is a unifying factor and we should encourage it.
Nigeria will be participating in the 2019 African Cup of Nations, a cup they won in 2013 when you represented the then president of the country, Goodluck Jonathan. Do you think the players can win the trophy in Egypt?
We should do everything possible to encourage them (the players). It is not going to be cheap: we must strike a balance between patriotism and other things.
We should look at what they earn to live as players in their clubs compared to what they will earn if they will travel to play for Nigeria somewhere else.
If a Nigerian is playing for a club in Europe and he thinks that if he comes to Nigeria he will be injured and there will be nothing to show for it, he would rather remain in Europe to play and make his money or come and not give his all.
We can’t take it for granted that because of patriotism they must play. We should encourage them as much as we can so that they can also go back to their clubs happy.
They have to earn a living, we shouldn’t see it as charity. But once they know that the country will take care of them, the country is prepared to encourage them, then they will put in their best.
We need to get those who manage the sports industry in Nigeria to show patriotism and all the participants also to show patriotism. But we can’t just assume that by being patriotic, they will not earn a living; they have to earn a living from it.
Apart from taking part in AFCON, they have what it takes to perform well and come out in flying colours. After winning in 2013, Nigeria has been unfortunate not to have qualified until now.
We have so many young players in the team, very hungry for success and the most important thing is to come together as a nation to push them to success.
If a Nigerian is playing for a club in Europe and he thinks that if he comes to Nigeria he will be injured and there will be nothing to show for it, he would rather remain in Europe to play and make his money or come and not give his all. We can’t take it for granted that because of patriotism they must play.
Golf is your key sport, but people think of it as elite sport solely for the rich, how true this assertion?
If you are an athlete you want to buy spike shoes and other materials like pants, jersey and so on. These things cost money and are not free because you have to wear them to compete. If you are a golfer you have to wear shoes, you have to wear a vest.
If you are a table tennis or tennis player, you have to buy the racquet, so there is no sport that is not expensive. I have taken pains to explain to so many people that whether golf, football, hockey or athletics you do need to spend money.
There is no running away from that fact. If you buy a golf kit, it can last you for the rest of your golfing career. So, it’s a wrong notion to say that golf is more expensive than football or more expensive than any other sport.
All the sports are expensive, but the problem comes when the expenses are beyond us. You can’t say because this game is expensive you won’t participate, you have to find a way to be part of it.