One day in 1997, the late Austin Akosa, along with three other men, visited our office to seek publicity for an initiative he was spearheading. Akosa, a former West African Football Union footballer, as I recall, was looking to create a welfare platform for down-on-his-luck ex-footballers. During an interview session with the sports desk, which I sat in on without an invitation, he tried to explain his ideas about the platform.

From what I remember, their targets were corporate organizations and wealthy sports-loving people. One of his interviewers, apparently alarmed that sports authorities were being left out of his plans, sought to know why. Specifically, the interviewer named the Nigerian Football Federation (referred to as the Nigerian Football Association), arguing that his job was to provide, without fail, relief to internationals in financial distress post-retirement. It’s a sight that was popular then and still is.

Akosa said it was not possible for the football body or the sports ministry to do what the interviewer suggested. First, he said – correctly, in my opinion – that internationals were paid allowances (certainly nowhere near the range of what is paid these days) for their services. Second, he told the interviewer that the number of former internationals, including those with single-digit caps, would make this impractical. Another of his interviewers chimed in with the line that since internationals brought glory or fame to the country, they deserved to be put in a special category deserving of something not far from the nanny. He still rejected the suggestion.

After Akosa’s departure, her interviewers and I continued the conversation over drinks across the street. I said that I agreed with Akosa. It sounded hard-hearted to them. While I didn’t think (and still don’t believe) that Nigerian society provides strong enough safety nets against adversity, including health-related, I did say that I didn’t think (still don’t believe) that the job of getting every former star out of the anguished sport of the traffic jam of life was that of the sports authorities (read government).

I quoted ex-Arsenal’s Kenny Sansom, who fell into financial trouble due to his ardent fondness for liquor and gambling, adding that I had no recollection of the English FA throwing money at him or others in a similar situation. I also argued that the Nigerian Railways Corporation, an epitome of institutional cold-bloodedness, had staff who worked hard and were as patriotic as any Nigerian on two legs, but never received what was owed to them, let alone lots of money. Compassionate gesture service. They weren’t convinced so we moved on to other things, in particular the liquor on offer.

Former athletes aren’t the only people the media recommend for special treatment. Case after case is filed in favor of Pa Taiwo Akinkunmi, the designer of our national flag, who was given a “lifetime salary” by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. A social media post I saw a few years ago had a picture of his house, with a chipped coat of paint. The poster called for the government to paint the house for what it did and got huge support in the comments section.

Akinkunmi’s entry won the competition for the design of the national flag while studying in England. He won a cash prize of £100, a barely mind-boggling sum at the time. He returned to Nigeria and had a career in the civil service, so he must have received a tip and is receiving a pension.

I am not against compassion, but requiring that the government, as a rule, directly pick up the tab for those who were paid for their services because they are prominent is what I have a hard time understanding. At all levels there are great teachers, for example, many of whom are in the dumps for one reason or another and without media cheerleaders.

I was encouraged to write this by the viral photo of the ailing former national goalkeeper, Peter Fregene, and the strident opinion that it is the sports authorities that bear the responsibility of financing his restoration to health. I need to repeat that I am not opposed to compassion and Fregene deserves it. But the way the conversation is framed is what I find off-putting. A friend, who posted the photo, raised the possibility that it is owed to him, the reason why he cannot finance his treatment. That, if true, would be bad.

But evil of that nature, we all know, is what sports authorities do for fun. Many former sports heroes, especially those in coaching and administration, are owed salaries and severance pay for extended periods, something the media needs to make a sustained campaign issue, with a focus on specific offices/officials responsible of ill-treatment. Most people are only one event away from crisis and even if they pay us. So what’s next? Will clubs, for which footballers were cult heroes or outright legends paying for their services, say, be asked to set aside revenue for relief packages? How many people and what are the criteria to choose, if elections have to be made?

A career in sports, even at the professional level, is short. For the unlucky ones, it can be miniskirt-short (sorry for the mischief) and very few actually make it big. Even in the big time, there is no guarantee of financial success. The sports stars of yesteryear, of course, did not earn the staggering sums that they do today. But I suspect they earned more than most people, but in a much shorter amount of time. Big wins come early in their careers, which dictates the need to manage them in a way that ensures they last a long time or a lifetime.

The shortness of the career, potential injuries and lavish lifestyles put those gains at high risk. One of the things that the media and the public should campaign for is a culture of saving and investing early, so that income can grow over time and generate returns. For some years now, Flykite Productions, organizers of GOtv Boxing Night and of which I am a part, have organized sessions for boxers on various topics, including financial management. Those sessions, part of boxing development, are supported by MultiChoice Nigeria. I hope the beneficiaries are learning from them.

A campaign for a savings/investment culture is all the more important, as lucrative second career chances, such as in broadcasting, are rare, unlike in more developed societies. I don’t have enough familiarity with the local scene to say authoritatively whether or not athletes have life insurance or permanent total disability insurance to protect future income. If they do, great. If not, the media should point athletes and those with a desire to enter the industry in that direction.

No plan is foolproof and we have seen athletes targeted by scammers or victims of bad financial advice. Similarly, we can advocate for the creation of systems to limit exposure to such. They will never be removed. It is also important that we address a campaign for young athletes to seek to acquire formal skills and qualifications, either alongside their sporting activities or once their sporting days are over, for future deployment.

In this way, they are better protected against a wave of misfortunes and cause a reduction in the demand for government intervention. While these are too late for those who are already retired, they are useful for those who are still active. The contributions of soldiers, police officers, firefighters, teachers, journalists, and others to society may be less conspicuous, but they are not inferior to those of athletes. What we need as a society are stronger safety nets for all. It is a no-brainer that this is not going to be a popular opinion.

Opinions expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not those of TheCable.