NAN – Some former National athletes have expressed misgivings over the rot at the National Stadium, Lagos.
The land on which the stadium was built according to accounts, was a former Railways sports ground. The stadium with an initial 55,000 capacity was built in 1972 in time to host the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973.
It was a multi-purpose sporting facility as it had an eight-lane tartan track, Indoor Sports Hall, Swimming Pool and outdoor courts including hockey, handball and basketball.
The stadium hosted several international competitions including the Africa Games in ‘73, the Africa Cup of Nations, 1980, the 1999 World Youth Championships – U-20 and the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations.
The stadium was arguably, one of the best in the continent then as it was referred to as “pride of the nation’’.
However, lately the facility is a shadow of its former self, as virtually all the sporting facilities in the complex are in dilapidated state.
Some of the sports great athletes that won laurels on the facility while representing the country in major international events, expressed concerns at the parlous state of the stadium.
Lately, it had been occasionally used for religious gatherings and was at one time taken over by area boys and squatters.
However, in 2009, the National Sports Commission (NSC) made concerted effort to bring the facility back to world class status.
Some of the top athletes in separate interviews told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that the stadium needed to be given urgent rehabilitation.
Segun Odegbami, a former skipper of Green Eagles said the current state of the structure was a reflection of the present state of the country. “It is a shame to the country.
“I played on that pitch and scored important goals. It gave me joy. I was happy playing on it. The feeling alone gives me goose pimples any time I recall my playing days on that pitch.
“I felt elated to play not just because I was a footballer but because I was playing on home soil where the crowd cheered.
“I cannot imagine the opposite way we see of it today. It is in a mess, a pitiable situation; it is a shame on the reflection of the country,’’ he said.
Odegbami, fondly called “Mathematical’’ won 46 caps and scored 23 goals for the national team and most of it on that pitch.
He was in the victorious team to the Africa Cup of Nations title in 1980, an event that was staged at the National Stadium, Lagos.
“We can only hope for the right change, the change to restore the stadium back to its glorious days as we enter into a new dispensation,“ he said.
Christian Chukwu, skipper of the Eagles to the 1980 Nations Cup victorious team, said he was not pleased with state of the stadium.
The former Super Eagles’ coach lamented that it was time to refurbish the facility, one of the national symbols from total ruins.
“I am never a happy man anytime I see the extent of the dilapidation of the structures that has been yearning for rehabilitation. It takes me back in time when I recall my playing days on the facility.
“A stadium we believe brings us good luck each time we play on it. Each time I come out of the tunnel and see the fans chanting my names and those of my teammates, it gives me confidence to go all out.
“I believe I played my best football on that pitch. I am pleading with the Federal Government to give it the deserved attention and restore it to its place of glory to help the growth of sports in the country’’ Chukwu said.
Adokiye Amiesimaka, another member of the victorious squad said: “the stadium is living in its shadows. I never thought it would come to this; the place is just scary place to come to.
“I remember in my time, it was a glorious place to be. I shared many victories on that pitch, notably in 1980, when we won the Nations Cup.
“I am pleading to the NSC to intercede on the matter,’’ he said.
Babatunde Obisanya, former Africa table tennis champion and winner of the maiden Asoju-Oba Cup table tennis championship said it was unfortunate seeing the stadium lying fallow without operating to its full capacity.
“In my time, there was order and sanity. We made use of the Indoor Sports Hall, where I played.
“It was a place where we were proud of. Above all, it was a thing of joy many of us that won laurels for the country. I pray that the new government will see a way to turn around the present situation”.
Obisie Nwankpa, a former professional light welterweight boxing champion in 1970s, ’80s and ’90s said the stadium, which was meant for sports development had been turned into drinking joint and shopping centre.
“I am not happy to see the state at which the stadium is, I feel sad anytime I look at this wonderful structure where I won medals for the country.
Yusuf Ali, a 1990 Commonwealth Games long jump gold medalist, said it was sad to know that the track were now in tatters.
“I ran for the country and set an African record on that track. I ran for the love of the sport, the stadium was a place to be. It is a shame to see that it’s all gone and nobody even cares about it’’.
Christopher Ohaegbu, a former Head of Protocol, NSC also added that the stadium was a lively place, where all athletes came together to share common vision of success in sports.
Elias Gora, a former Secretary-General of the Nigerian Olympic Committee (NOC) said: “there are three main steps to take to help rebuild the stadium.
“The government should partner with private sector to help manage and maintain the stadium.
“They should also organise internal and foreign training programmes for the stadium managers to help them to update their knowledge on stadium management,’’ he said.
NAN reports that Olusegun Obasanjo administration planned to concession the facility but the plan failed to take-off.
It remains to be seen what the new administration will make of the facility.