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Tokyo Olympics: Rethinking sports administration in Nigeria – Part 2


Nigerian athletes, who were disqualified from participating in the Tokyo Olympics Games

How can Nigeria break out of this vicious cycle of institutional dysfunction in sport administration? Like a bulk of Nigeria’s institutional dysfunction, sport administration also has the fundamental issue of governance at the core of its predicament.

There are usually well-intentioned reform ideas encapsulated in beautiful documents with clear-cut pathways that could lead to performances and the achievements of objectives. But such ideas do not get implemented because those at the helms of affairs, in sport for instance, do not really care about such documents and the agenda and objectives they hold. The fundamental question for me here, from which other issues are generated, is whether the government at the three levels in Nigeria, consider sports a critical ingredient in national development.


This is a crucial question for me because, as I have argued recently, the federal government in Nigeria often invests rigidly in the tangibles of development usually defined by infrastructures, from roads to structures. And less attention is paid to the intangibles like human capital development. Sports constitute one of those areas where the intangibles of national development can be harnessed for the cultivation of Nigeria’s soft power. However, with a comatose educational system, one cannot expect that sporting activities that ought to be part of a rounded educational training would be available. I doubt that Nigeria’s higher education system is wired, like North America, to award scholarship founded on the sporting prowess of any student.

Sporting activities and festivals, from primary schools’ inter-house sports, universities’ inter-collegiate games and national sport festivals have all receded to the background of educational activities. It is time to bring them back. And the solution lies in a multidimensional reform effort that begins with a visionary political leader whose understanding of national development is comprehensive enough to perceive the relationship among all the sectors of the national economy, from infrastructural development to sports.

First, no institutional reformer will neglect the place and role of any national policy document in the restructuring of any sector. Thus, this makes the Nigerian national sports policy a very crucial place to start reforming the role of sport in national development. However, while the sports policy is a well-crafted document that especially recognizes the fundamental significance of the grassroots in sporting development, the significance of this insight will continue to be lost if that document is not synergized, for instance, with other national policies in cognate sectors of the economy, from youth development to employment. For instance, statistics reveal that sports constitute one of the highest employers of labour in Nigeria. This immediately speaks to the relationship between the national sports policy, the national youth policy, the national policy on education and the national productivity policy. For instance, the relationship between the national policy on education and the national sports policy synergize between the development of physical education in universities with the resuscitations of national sports festivals and games across the Nigerian school system.


However, it takes sport professional, grounded in the intricacies of sports development, to make this connection. And this is where the idea of sports professionalism and the resuscitation of the moribund National Sports Commission tie into the rearming of sports as a key ingredient in national development. The NSC, in conjunction with the National Institute for Sports, and the entire institution of sports in Nigeria requires an urgent re-professionalization that will undermine the patronage system in letting sports professional handle sports administration. From such a thorough management of sports in Nigeria flows not only a solid line of employment opportunities for sportspersons and professionals as well as non-professionals, an even more solid avenue for tax revenues emanating from multiple sport businesses of all sorts, but also a human capital development framework that complement the streams deriving from higher education and all flowing into Nigeria’s development profile.

As with all issues of reform in Nigeria, the baseline test lies with the amount of political will the Nigeria political class can muster. Charity must always begin at home. It is only then that we can begin to expect more than shame at important global sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup.

Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Professor of Public Administration & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos.


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