We won’t allow other states poach Lagos athletes again – Adeyinka

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Senior Special Assistant to the Lagos State Governor on Sports and member of the Nigeria Football Federation’s Facilities Committee, Adeboye Adeyinka, talks about Lagos’ readiness to welcome back the Super Eagles, preparations for the sports festival and more, in this interview with ‘TANA AIYEJINA

How would you describe sports in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic?

We just need to be thankful to God for keeping us alive. No one is praying for a year like that again. The pandemic ruined things for everybody. A lot of people you never thought would pass away did as a result of the pandemic. I had some issues with coronavirus too, but I give thanks to God that I was able to come back stronger. Generally, 2020 was a bad year for sports in Lagos, the country and worldwide. That’s why we are hoping for a better 2021.

 In terms of sports, how bad was the effect of the pandemic on Lagos?

It was a terrible time for sports in the state but we still found time to host some competitions like the para-table tennis event, we organised the Asoju Oba table tennis championship, as well as some other competitions.

What are the state’s plans for 2021?

We have a sports-loving governor. When we’re talking about sports, in Nigeria, Lagos comes first. Our governor has supported us fully. We have very capable individuals managing sports in the state. We all have good working relationships and with the continued support of the governor, sports is going to grow this year.

How prepared is Lagos for the National Sports Festival in Edo State?

Before the pandemic, our sportsmen were in camp for three months and when we were told they were going to shift the festival, we asked them to go on break but Lagos is always prepared. As we all know, Lagos doesn’t make use of ready-made stars. We pick them from the grassroots and we have been doing well at sport festivals. We don’t believe in ready-made stars. We allow the young ones to showcase what they have.

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But a lot of states see Lagos as a poaching ground for athletes, who they use to compete against Lagos during major sports events in the country. Is the state doing anything to ensure that athletes from Lagos are not poached by other states?

We’ve come to the conclusion that none of our sportsmen should be allowed to join other states. Once we’ve groomed them from a young age, they have to give us their full cooperation and the state is doing well. We’re going to pay them well, and take good care of them. We have a sports-loving governor and with all the support he has given us, I’m sure none of our athletes will be hijacked this year.

Can Lagos win the National Sports Festival ahead of Delta, Rivers and Edo?

Delta, Edo and Rivers states always believe in ready-made stars. We make use of younger talents and I know that with that, we’re going to have a better representation.

What has the present government done to improve sports in the state?

The governor does not joke with those handling sports. Recently, he donated a bus to the Lagos chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria. He has also promised to get the sports commission a new vehicle. The governor has assured that money will be released in preparation for the sports festival. I’m highly impressed with the calibre of people handling sports in the state. The synergy is good and they all have passion for sports.

As a member of the NFF’s Facilities Committee, how will you describe the state of sports facilities in Lagos?

Our facilities in Lagos are of very high standards. During the tenure of the previous governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, he allowed us turn the astro-turf of the Teslim Balogun Stadium to full grass. The current governor was able to complete the Mobolaji Johnson Stadium at Onikan, the Isheri stadium is under construction, Teslim Balogun will wear a new look, and so on. At the moment, work is going on at all these facilities in the state. With what is on ground so far, the NFF sees what we’re doing in Lagos, and sincerely, our facilities are the best in the country. We’re still working on the grasses at the Teslim Balogun and Mobolaji Johnson stadiums. This shows we’re really working. The NFF sees that we’re working, and that’s why they appointed me into their Facilities Committee.

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Lagos used to be the home of the Super Eagles but in over a decade, we’ve seen them play their home games in other parts of the country. Is Lagos working to ensure that the Eagles return to their state, which some see as their rightful home?

Very soon you’re going to see the Super Eagles, the U-20, U-17, the Super Falcons coming to Lagos. We’ve been able to put our house in order. With what we’ve done so far, I believe we’ve reached about 95 per cent readiness for any national team games in Lagos State.

Eighteen of the teams in the Nigeria Professional Football League are owned by state governments. Why has Lagos not towed the same lane?

Surprisingly, Smart City are being supported by the Lagos State Government and they were able to make a record as the only academy team in the history of Nigeria to play in the quarter-final stage of the Aiteo Cup. Two years ago, they were at the final of the Lagos State FA Cup, and last year they emerged champions. We are taking our time, we don’t want to be too forward and very soon, you’re going to see a very strong team from Lagos State. MFM are also supported by the government despite not being a state team. The Agege stadium was refurbished because of the team’s achievement. Lagos is always ready to support any team that’s ready to take the state’s name higher.

How is it like running a football academy?

It is not an easy task. People are always asking how I manage to run the club but I always say Smart City are being sponsored by friends from Europe, America, and other parts. Recently, they brought in 50 pairs of boots, 20 pairs of gloves, lots of jerseys, and lots of footballs. These friends also support me in paying staff salaries.

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How would you describe the state of grassroots football in Lagos?

We need more people to invest in grassroots football. The proprietor of 36 Lion has done a lot for the grassroots. He is spending a lot on his project and is ready to move football in the state and its environs forward. We need people like these at the helm of affairs.

Is there collaboration between the sports and educational sector in Lagos State to have footballers acquire educational qualifications?

In my club, I have four players going to school and I’m the one sponsoring them. They are all in higher institutions. I asked my players which of them was interested in going to school to signify and four of them did. Two of them are in 300 level in the university while the other two are in the polytechnic. My plan is to make them better in the future by sending them to school. It’s not my team alone, other teams in Lagos do the same. Seyi Akinwunmi (NFF vice president) has done a lot as well, sending players to school.

What should sports lovers be expecting from Lagos in 2021?

Hopefully, 2021 is going to be a special year for all sports in the state. The state is doing well in every sport and that can be attributed to the passion of those handling sports in the state. And with the support of the governor, we’re expecting a lot of first-class football in the state this year. Also, we’ll see a lot of players moving out of the state to other countries for greener pasture.

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