One question I asked the President of Nigeria’s Badminton Federation (BFN), Francis Orbih at a press parley in Port Harcourt on March 27 was, what would be the definition of success to him in the upcoming, but now, recently concluded All African Senior Badminton Championship.
Give it to the hardworking Orbih. He is good with words and action and so did not fail to give a well articulated answer as published earlier on this medium. Here is the first part of his two-part comment which dwelt on the organisation of a successful championship.
“As a Federation, I will say that the first thing we will be looking forward to is to have a very good championship in terms of incidence-free, safety. A championship where everybody will come and have fun and enjoy themselves,” began Orbih to www.aclsports.com
“So for us, (it is) to have a seamless championships where we will not have issues. Yes, some hitches will come once in a while but as much as possible, we want to minimise this to the barest minimum.”
Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State in Southern Nigeria played hosts to Badminton players from fourteen other African countries from the 22nd to 28th April, 2019 richly backed by the benevolent state government led by the governor, Nyesom Wike, who accurately has the POS Africa bestowed on him last year, no pun intended.
It is the second time in just over a year that the state would host the rest of Africa in a continental championship and also in a sport different from the much popular Football. The state capital hosted the African Wrestling Championship in February 2018.
With the two championships gone, it is important to review particularly the just ended Badminton tournament held at the Alfred Diette-Spiff Civic Centre, Moscow Road, Port Harcourt. It turned out to be a success especially with Nigeria’s team excelling on many fronts but there should be more beyond that vis-à-vis Orbih’s pre-tournament expectation.
“I must say I feel quite disappointed with some things. As athletes, many of us are trying our best to be professionals and we expect good conditions when we come to our continental championships. Unfortunately, this whole week has been full of problems,” lamented Africa Number One (at least as of Sunday), Kate Foo Kune of Mauritius on her Facebook page on Monday.
While it is quite easy to dismiss her vituperation as one of a sore loser, it is also pertinent to look at some things that might have been better handled in some of the issues Foo Kune raised, even if I believe her presentation might have sounded perhaps harsher than the whole issues – but she who wears the shoe knows where it pinches most.
I was at the Badminton Championship from Tuesday till the final day on Sunday and I made some observations on what could have been handled better especially ahead of future championships that will still be hosted in Port Harcourt within the next four years.
I had a frank discussion with a Badminton enthusiast at the venue on Friday about the poor turnout of spectators and however convenient it is for us to lay it off as being an “unknown sport”, the Federation and State Sports Ministry could still have done better.
The championship could have served as an educational ground for students of higher institutions in Rivers State, especially those offering Sports (activities and broadcasting) related courses. A proper collaboration between the Sports and Education ministries could have seen the gospel of Badminton better propagated within that week of high class competition.
Also, in terms of publicity and despite the visibility of bill boards in some areas of the city, it can be argued conclusively that the competition did not enjoy enough coverage on the local media. This cannot be unconnected to the fact that only fifteen journalists from the state were issued accreditation tags (excluding yours sincerely).
To put it in proper perspective, there are at least 15 radio stations and four TV stations in Port Harcourt (emphasis on at least) but the organisers perhaps prioritised the need to trend on social media over leveraging on the local mass media to get sport lovers into the Civic Centre.
One of the basic necessities for an indoor competition like this is the availability of good, unfailing light system, something that is rocket science in a country like Nigeria. However, it was expected that such be put in place for this tournament but as much as the organisers tried, play was broken up at one time or the other due to power failure issues.
Such break in play easily distorts and distracts sports men and it almost cost Nigeria in the Team Events final on Thursday night. Nigeria led 10-8 having won two plays back to back and requiring one more to go into the half time before a couple of lights dimmed. It took about ten minutes to get them sorted and when play resumed, Mauritius won three plays straight and led at half time 11-10. Thank goodness, Aanuoluwapo Opeyori and Dorcas Adesokan fought back to win.
“There were small air conditioners everywhere around the stadium blowing the shuttle in every direction. There were more than 15 of them + the fans. I have played in windy halls but this one was just impossible to play in. It was not possible to hit a clean shot or to predict where the shuttle would fall. In the end, it was more luck than badminton with no real rallies which is again very unfair,” added Koo Fune on her post.
For spectators, staying inside the hall was not easy in such humid conditions while for the athletes, the cooling vans were actually doing what they ought not to do (blowing shuttles away). A couple of athletes collapsed inside the heat while many of them fell sick – although some were attributed to their food, story for another day.
In competitions of this magnitude, the safety and health of players and followers alike must be of paramount essence.
No Video Assistance?
At the Wrestling Championship last year, there was the benefit of TV replays for the referees to use but to my surprise, there was nothing of such at this Badminton Championship. I witnessed first hand, some controversial moments in the tournament which did not do justice to fairness.
Foo Kune referenced one of such in her outburst, an incident during the Team Final against Nigeria. Watching from my humble spectators seat at the gallery, I saw Opeyori smashing an easy effort that could have been the title winner for Nigeria clearly wide. The referees looked sure in giving it as ‘out’ initially but changed their decision after members of Team Nigeria encroached to celebrate. Well, it was later reversed and Nigeria still went on to win.
Nigeria’s number 2 player Deborah Ukeh can also feel aggrieved after two calls went against her when she lost to compatriot Chinenye Ibere. Both calls came at a point she was gaining momentum in games 2 and 3 and could easily be a good excuse for her failure to get to even the quarter finals of the Women’s singles.
Could it be that the Federation saw no need for Video Assistance?
The championship has come and gone with winners and losers taking stock of their performances. I enjoyed watching the Sport I ran away from in my Junior Secondary school but having watched it all, I felt Nigeria missed the chance to deliver a perfect tournament just by the whiskers with our lack of attention to these little details I highlighted.
The Rivers state government will host more and more championship in the coming years but organisers must always strive and reach for perfection which will help to give the government full value for their money.