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Equal treatment for sportsmen, women is good – Istifanus

Sep, 2021 | By Our Reporter | ||

ssues on female sports in Nigeria have remained a thing of concern to stakeholders and sports administrators. In this interview, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Director of Sports, Mr. Luka Istifanus spoke extensively on these with Abuja Digest Weekly reporters, Victoria Agorom and Gyang Bakwo. Excerpts:

Abuja Digest Weekly: How would you describe the state of female sports in Nigeria as well as in FCT?
Istifanus: Female sports in Nigeria is an issue that gives every sports administrator concern in Nigeria. The involvement of women in sports in Nigeria in some quarters, particularly in northern Nigeria, is something that is viewed as rather unacceptable but a different ball game in other parts of the country where the female folks are encouraged to participate in sporting activities.

But the scenario is something else in the north where female sports is seen as a taboo. But generally speaking, female sports in Nigeria is an issue that is most welcome by various stakeholders and administrators. I cannot be able to give you now the statistics of women who have participated in sports up to international level from this office. But they are many, the number is high and we are still having them today.

Just at the last sports festival, quite a number of medals that were worn by FCT came through women. And out of this number, none came from the north. So, women involvement in sports is what every sports administrator is clamoring for today.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Just as you said, there are cultural disparities in the north in particular which have hindered the participation of women in sports. Has this situation been addressed?
Istifanus: You know, sometimes there are issues that are very difficult to address especially when it has some elements of religion. Even in some parts of the north, outside religion, they still bring in their cultural values in, for instance, where some come from hardly will a woman be on trousers and get the acceptability of the elite.

They see it as a lifestyle that is not embedded in their culture. All the same, at the last edition of the National Sports Festival, I saw a few of them that came from Katsina, Kano and Zamfara to participate in various sporting activities and they were all Muslims. I want to believe that the scenario of the past is being addressed and will definitely be addressed. Women, especially in the north, will be seen massively engaging in sporting activities.

We have so many female football clubs in the country with no one coming from the far north; all of them are from the south and they are playing both in the league and national level. But as of now, we have a few of them in the combat sports that are core northerners and when you want to compare the statistics, they are minimal compared to their colleagues that are from other regions of the country.

We believe that one day the equation will balance itself more so that, let's say, you have 20 graduates in your house and government does not know that they exist; the only way out is to identify one way of life that can give your life a meaning. People are realizing that sports is one of those ways. So, I want to believe that one day things will get better.

Abuja Digest Weekly: It has been observed that there is no level playing ground for both men and women in sports in the country.
Istifanus: In the recent past, whenever men and women athletes go to competitions and come back, the reward system is not always the same. The males are rewarded more than the women; that is to say that we, the sports administrators, are not helping matters in the sense that it is the same country that we go out to represent and the same event that we compete in.

But if you come to the issue of rewards, we reward the males higher that the women. If we had seen the female gender as equal with the men, there would not have been any need for such disparity. And to say the truth, it is even the female folk that we need to encourage the more because they are more vulnerable to social vices than the men.

For instance, if more unemployed women can engage meaningfully in sports, vices such as prostitution will reduce drastically. Then, they would have become gainfully employed, empowered and self- sustained. We are planning for the 12th awards night in FCT. Out of the number we are rewarding, not less than 50 percent of them are women. They will receive various cash rewards.

So, we are hoping that how male participation is rated in Nigeria will be the same way the females will be rated just as their counterparts in other countries. It is only in Africa that we have such disparity but we are hoping that one day we would balance the difference.

Abuja Digest Weekly: But are no deliberate measures put in place to ensure that these gaps are bridged?
Istifanus: Yes, that is why we have associations of women in sports like the 'Elite Women in Sports' and we have a federation election that will take place just after the Olympics. In every federation, women are given one slot; that of athletics took place recently and women were given a slot.

That is to say that we are beginning to have more women in sports administration than we used to and that is to say that women themselves are championing their cause of being considered equally alongside the males and they are championing that cause in a positive way. At the last Directors of Sports meeting we had in Benin, nearly seven directors are women; so they are springing up.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Marriage and eventually pregnancy have put a peg on sports careers of many women. Is there any special plan for issues like these?
Istifanus: Nigeria has a problem. All we are after is winning and that is why we have such problems. But among the civilized nations, the priority is keeping the body healthy. Over there, you hardly see youths patronizing the hospitals because they are healthy.

So, sports does not necessarily mean to participate and win but, number one, to give you a healthy and physical state of mind. Sports is just like mathematics; if you leave for one day it would leave you for many years. That is why a pregnant woman by the time she comes back she will not be like how she was before childbirth. That has even in this office denied so many women from being married but that is not how it is supposed to be.

In the advanced countries, they have rehabilitation processes. Whenever a woman gives birth, she undergoes a rehabilitation process and the husband aligns with it; unlike here (in Africa) where child-bearing ones are not treated fairly. There is this rehabilitation process that is supposed to be our culture and not a habit; a woman after giving birth should come back to sports on her own, but there is no such designed programme that she would need to pass through before coming back.

So, we need to emulate what is happening in some of the advanced countries. But one day we would arrive there. That is why we organize series of seminars and sponsor people to overseas to study what is happening there. But studying what is happening there is a different thing and coming back to implement it is another scenario. Sports administrators who undergo these trainings cannot implement on their own; it has to pass through the government.

It is only when the government provides the enabling environment, the logistics and necessary support, that such policies can be implemented. We believe that one day such gaps will be bridged so that sports women will not be scared of getting married and giving birth and would not suffer frustrations in their careers.

News Update

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, disclosed these while speaking during the FMFBNP/AfDB SAPZ High-Level virtual discussions last week.

With the support of her principals, Dame Joy Okoro has gradually been solving the many issues that plagued FCT Water Board with the immediate noticeable result being that revenue has shot up apparently for the first time in a while.

In a recent interview with Abuja Digest Weekly's Sennen Udoh, Mr. Ekpenyong, was a journalist's delight to behold as he volunteered consultancy counseling on effective mentoring on education, moral upbringing, and sports/other talents.

The involvement of women in sports in Nigeria in some quarters, particularly in northern Nigeria, is something that is viewed as rather unacceptable but a different ball game in other parts of the country.


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