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Patriotism in international competitions

Let’s take football. The world confederation cup has just ended with Germany winning 1 – 0 over Chile in the finals. The last result Nigeria had was a disappointing 2 – 0 defeat at home by South Africa. Nigeria is not qualifying in most international and world contests. It is increasingly absent from them. The Super Eagles German coach has threatened to resign.
I wanted to discuss the let down with a friend the other day. He said: “do you still watch Nigeria’s games? You are just trying to frustrate your self. I try to find better things to do on such occasions. They will always disappoint and spoil your day. I don’t view their games”. It used to be promising. Now things have become so bad, along with the dwindling state of affairs virtually in all things and directions.
It set me thinking generally about international contests. What makes a country like ours lose most of the time despite her large size? I concluded that patriotism has a role to play on who wins and who loses. Yet patriotism as important a word as it is, is so much taken for granted. In our society we think everybody just has to have it. It doesn’t have to be cultivated. People should be born patriotic and they are expected to exercise it, in their own interest. I disagree.
Nigeria thinks patriotism is associated with the love for country and it should come naturally. When one does not exhibit it, it is overlooked as something simply unbecoming, condemnable and up to the person to correct. Lack of it on the part of citizens has not been considered a possible reason for failure or poor performance when people represent their country in contests with other nations. Amid all the things that make Nigeria seemingly unlovable to its people, it is easy  to lose sight of the fact that patriotism is the only currency that buys good performance and wears it as a badge.
Over and over again the Super Eagles, the senior national football team has been found wanting. Our Olympic teams over the years do no better. To change the disgrace, they have severally changed from local coaches to foreign coaches. They have tried foreign-based players and local champions. They have mixed the two. They have trained locally and abroad to try different terrains, turfs and weather conditions. They have tried different styles and tactics. They have put in huge amounts and other resources as incentives for the players and their officials. All these have been to no avail. We continue to fail.
One thing that has not been tested is the patriotism of the players or contestants which most Nigerians I dare say might run short of or have none at all in any circumstance. Where shall you find the patriotism of Nigerians? Or what is patriotism in Nigeria? It is the willingness to put your head or leg in to touch a ball in a dangerous struggle to get a goal. That’s what winners do in football matches and in games. That can also be done to prevent a goal. The goal keeper would dive into a deadly tussle from which he may not come out alive to save a goal. That is the patriotism that a Nigerian is not capable of. He would be able to do that if his country in a reverse situation would do the same for him. He is sure it will not do that. He would rather lose the match than lose his life or even break a leg. But other countries will win matches for their countries at that type of  cost. Our challenge is to know how those countries achieved this sort of love for country and the reciprocal love of the people by the country. I guess none can exist without the other.
Patriotism has ramifications in diplomacy, politics, defense, government service, sports and all competitive relationships between one country and the other. You cannot compete if your team is poorly motivated and is, as we are, not committed to winning. Losing is a fact of life. Anybody can lose. When people lose they try to do better next time. They will go back to correct the mistakes. Not in our own case. The more important thing after losing here is to find excuses why we may lose yet again. Losing has become so inevitable that the unpatriotic cause of it is also beyond our scope to fathom.
But if patriotism were to be acknowledged and celebrated, the causes of recurrent national failures here and there would also have been identified and avoided. Nobody is expected to be patriotic and to yield the fruits of patriotism such as national victories from a lukewarm soil. The patriot is made. He is not born. And once made, a patriot is nurtured and grown with the manure of persistent national or state support. He has to be patriotic about something, a passion and something worthwhile to burn his zeal for. The soil that grows patriots is the good society where there is justice, equity and fair play and as well concern and sympathy for the citizen.
A Nigerian footballer from a slum (most are) who has poor parents cannot be patriotic at the field of play as to risk his leg in a scramble for a goal. He will be blamed for sustaining an injury in order to a get a goal. He has to be economical with his input so that he can be fit, strong and alive to play another day. He cannot fritter away his chances just to be patriotic because when the chips are down (he gets injured) nobody will come to his aid. He is down and out. Of course he knows it. His parents and people at home have no electricity to watch and enjoy him play. That gives him no joy. It neither gives him encouragement. The odds at home where he comes from can never make him patriotic.  He would not know what being patriotic means. He has never heard of it . He is playing against opponents in the world who have everything. They are personally rich and well taken care of by their country. That emotional and psychological inferiority is there to weigh the Nigerian player down. It is a complex for him. Even in playing against a poorer country his achievement motive is lower. Beating the poorer country is not an aspiration for him. On the contrary the poor country has the aspiration and ambition to beat him. That ambition and aspiration will put the poor country at an advantage. They play better and win.
In all endeavors, the Nigerian needs a patriotic boost to perform. But in a situation where every sector is threatened, it is no surprise at all that Nigeria is not doing well in international games and competitions. The environment contributes to that. The blame is not on the players or their handlers. The economic recession, insecurity, unemployment, environmental degradation, flooding, poverty, hunger and starvation and a government that doesn’t seem to know what it is doing have affected even football. Small and poor countries are having an upper hand in games and competitions over the giant of Africa.
The government mishandling of Nigerians’ unpatriotic tendencies has made the country weak. But the important thing is the cause of it. It starts from childhood. For example, Germany which won the recent world confederation cup makes provision in its budget for all German children at birth. Their mothers have generous maternity allowances for their clothing, feeding, medication and care. They all must go to school where they are also fed. The schools lack nothing, including qualified teachers and clean, modern classrooms. Whatever their interest and ambition in life they are given the opportunity and exposed to it. The children are not abused as street traders and house helps who hew wood and fetch water many kilometers away. They grow up in dignity to manhood. With this patriotic foundation they play African children most of whom starved up to manhood, were sick, uncared for, homeless, did not go to school. Nobody ever spoke to them in life in kind words. If at all they went to school, it was a very bad and leaking one with nothing in it. These are the people who are matched against a country like Germany in competitions hoping to win? Nigeria may win international competitions only when it cultivates the love of its people. If only the leaders can replenish its stock of idealism and common sense in upholding the patriotism of  its people that’s when it can do well in global competitions.

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