Adopt-a-talent: Of what impact to sports development?
Civilisations over the years have always looked for means to rove the living standard of citizens. Most societies adopt programmes that create opportunities for people to grow to their optimum abilities, elevate their standards of living, and make existence more meaningful.
In sports, countries have adopted different approaches to ensure that they get the best out of their youth populations. This they do through youth development programmes and talent enhancing activities that provide avenues for the skilful to attain the highest possible heights.
Understanding the development of talent has been a major challenge across the arts, education, and particularly sports.
Indeed, a recent study showed that a dynamic network model predicts typical individual developmental patterns, which for a few athletes, results in exceptional achievements.
Apart from some advanced countries, which have systems that account for the development of talents at different stages, funding has been a major hindrance to proper athletes’ development in most Third World countries.
Some countries like Jamaica, Kenya, and Ethiopia, among others that are consistently in the top bracket of the ladder in international competitions such as the Olympic Games and World Athletics Championships, have adopted programmes that help them build their talented youths to become world champions.
Some of the programmes include building facilities close to the source of talents; concentrating on areas of comparative advantage, and turning their schools into skills development centres, where budding athletes are built from the scratch.
There are also some countries, especially in the Middle East that poach talented athletes from Third World nations, provide such athletes with all they need to hone their skills to become world-beaters. Countries like Bahrain and UAE, for instance, recently started flexing muscles with their more endowed counterparts in international championships.
Competing with these countries with seemingly endless resources has become a big problem for countries like Nigeria, whose budget for sports can hardly cater to the sports ministry’s recurrent expenditure.
One of the problems hindering Nigerian sports development, according to the immediate past Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, is the poor budgetary allocation to the sector.
Dalung, who also identified state governors’ apathy to sports development as another major problem plaguing the sector, believes that the country’s poor budgetary allocation to sports is a factor that has stunted the growth of talented youths.
He said that states see investing in sports as a waste of scarce resources, adding that their neglect of the sector has inadvertently killed the careers of so many talented athletes, who would have grown to become world-beaters if they were rightly groomed.
On assumption of office, incumbent Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, set out to find a means of getting around the perennial lack of funds to reshape the sector.
One of the ways he sought to achieve this was by aligning with the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) to reposition sports as a business and make it more attractive to the organised private sector.
This alliance culminated in the adoption of a National Sports Industry Policy expected to accommodate the objectives of all stakeholders in the public, social enterprise, and private sectors for a vibrant sports industry, capable of contributing to the growth of the socio-economic indices of the Nigeria economy.
The minister also introduced a new project tagged “Adopt-A-Talent Initiative,” which seeks to find individual sponsors for budding athletes with potentials to become world-class when given the needed financial and technical support.
The Adopt-A-Talent programme was first introduced into the Nigerian sports milieu by Lagos State in 2012. It was then designed to source for young athletes based in the state “under 18 years that are extraordinary and exceptional for sponsorships, both in schooling and sports training, and ultimately develop them into elite athletes within the shortest possible time, without any restrictions of ethnicity, religion, and gender.”
The then Senior Special Assistant on Grassroots Sports Development to former Governor Babatunde Fashola, Prince Wale Oladunjoye, who developed and implemented the programme, said it was packaged to discover young athletes from various sports and expose them to scientific training.
In the spirit of the programme, sponsors could adopt single athletes, teams, or multiple athletes, a sport or sporting event, and even a school/club or school sports.
The overall aim of the Lagos State project was to discover and empower talented athletes to reach their optimum potential.
A few months into his tenure as sports minister, Sunday Dare came up with his version of the programme, which gives the potential sponsor the custody of a given athlete(s) or facility, to get such sponsors to provide everything the adopted athlete will need to achieve his potential.
The minister officially presented the programme to critical stakeholders in business and sports on December 16, 2019.
Speaking during the presentation held at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos, Dare said the initiative was birthed to turn sports into business, adding that his ministry was on course to reposition the sports in the country, even when the finish line was far ahead.
Almost one year since the programme was launched, the question some stakeholders are asking is, “how far have we gone with the Adopt-A-Talent initiative?”
Vice president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), Olamide George, described the initiative as Nigeria’s surest route to podium time in international competitions.
He explained: “There have been talks about private sector involvement in sports development for decades now, but no sports minister has made any concrete move towards actualising it until now.
“No one has achieved success without the support of others. So, by adopting athletes, you are providing them with the means to compete for Nigeria.
“Adoption affords them travel expenses for training camps and competitions, proper nutrition, better equipment, and coaching. These athletes would be competing for Nigeria, and those who would embrace the programme are those who will be making sure that they qualify to compete for Nigeria.”
He continued: “By supporting the programme, we can provide our athletes with the opportunity to reach their full potential and be right there with them every time they wear the green and white colours of Nigeria.”
Prince Wale Oladunjoye, who was the driver of the Adopt-A-Talent programme for Lagos State during the Fashola administration, described the initiative as the surest way to taking the country back to the podium in international competitions. He, however, added that it must be well structured such that the exit of any particular regime will not rubbish all the efforts put into building the programme.
He said: “When we did it in Lagos State, the programme was meant to cater for exceptionally gifted and talented under 18-year-olds. We provided training, equipment and materials for their training, and also gave them allowances to take care of their daily needs.
“We gave them money because we reasoned that if they didn’t have money to pay their way to train, some will walk so many kilometres to get to their grounds and would be too tired to do any meaningful exercise. We also took care of their feeding to ensure their feeding habit was not counterproductive. We even educated them on nutrition. But when Governor Fashola left office, his successor did not want to hear of the programme.”
Oladunjoye regretted that the athletes who were being nurtured and were on the verge of moving to the elite cadre were suddenly abandoned.
“Some of the athletes have found their way out of Nigeria due to neglect. Ruth Usoro, is one of the lucky ones as she is now in a college in Houston, USA.
“The other ones have joined other states, which unfortunately do not have the history of their career path, and are therefore unable to guide them properly.
“We even took the programme to the Federal Government, but the then minister of sports was not interested. Like his predecessors, he was only interested in participating in competitions. I commend the new minister for what he is doing, but the success of his programme depends on how he goes about it.”
Oladunjoye wants Dare to have a clear route to where he wants to be, adding, “I think the minister is already getting too many things done at once.
“Provision of new facilities and upgrade of the existing ones should be among his major projects. We cannot do anything at the national stadiums in either Abuja or Lagos. But I like the idea of recovering our facilities first and then upgrading them.”
He suggested that the Federal Government should have at least a sporting facility in each local council to be handled by a curator. “Such facilities would have equipment and materials that would be shared by neighbouring schools in a worked-out timetable.
“Some states have no facilities and that is why you see people running on main roads, which is dangerous. We have 774 local councils and there are many without sporting facilities. This is the area that the Federal Government should look into and also ensure participation in sports by all pupils.
“The equipment and materials to be provided by the Federal Government must have a five-year lifespan with curators. So, whatever is in that facility is brand new and would be available for use immediately. All schools must have access to some minimum facilities.
“Each local council must also have an indoor hall for 26 sporting disciplines, including table tennis, handball, basketball, and volleyball, among others.
“Currently, schools do not train before their inter-house sports and there is no way you can discover world-beaters in such situations.
“In Lagos, we do all inter-house sports in the first quarter of the year. That way, there will be enough time to work with discovered athletes in the remaining quarters.”
Given the chance, Oladunjoye would make Physical Education (PE) compulsory in schools, with PE graduates as instructors.
He said: “PE should be a scoring subject that should also be the last programme on Friday before students go home. PE should be taught by PE graduates and must be compulsory. Every school – primary and secondary must have sporting facilities. Secondary schools must have indoor sports complexes, while tertiary schools must have sports complexes.
“If we had 4, 088 primary schools without sporting facilities, how do you get the talents? Sports can absorb a large number of graduates, who hitherto may not have jobs after school.”
To the Vice President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, Babs Ogunade, the Adopt-A-Talent initiative can solve the perennial cry over lack of money.
Ogunade, who praised the Federal Ministry of Sports for bringing out a project that would aid athletes with exceptional qualities to grow in their chosen sports, said it could also accelerate the country’s sports development, even in a troubled economy like ours.
He said Nigeria is still backward in sports because stakeholders have refused to understand the significance of money to sports development.
He said people no longer see it as a recreational activity, but as a means to earn quality lifelihood for themselves and family members.
The NBBF vice president urged corporate bodies and well-meaning Nigerians to join the sports ministry in ensuring that the programme is a success, stressing that such endeavour would help accelerate the nation’s sports development.
“The advantages are numerous… if athletes are not picked by sentiments, the many talents wasting away would be discovered and allowed to grow to their potential. They will become useful to the country and their families.
“Sports is now big business and athletes, coaches, and administrators put in their best to achieve goals because of the monetary benefits. Athletes need to be exposed to quality facilities to bring out the best in them. So, the adopt-a-talent programme is good to make sports more interesting to the youth,” he said.
Ogunade is, however, worried that the programme seems to cater to only individual sports. He believes that the programme should be made to address the needs of team sports like basketball and football, adding, “there should be a special programme made for exceptionally talented athletes in teams.
“It is possible to pick talent in basketball, for instance, send the player to America to get quality education and at the same time build his career in the dunking game. The question is when you have many talents, how would you monitor them? How will you source the funds?
“So, I believe a well-structured programme should be mapped out for team sports like basketball, football, and others. As it is currently structured, the adopt-a-talent programme favours individual sports more.”
Like Prince Oladunjoye, a former Super Eagles goalkeeper, Ike Shorunmu, is bothered by what would become of the programme and athletes when the current minister leaves office.
He, therefore, urged the sports ministry to put in place, sustainable guidelines and laws that would ensure that no incoming government discards the initiative.
“One factor that affects sports development in Nigeria is the failure to sustain laudable projects. The Adopt-A-Talent initiative by the present minister of sports is good, but one of the factors that might hinder the initiative is what happens after this minister leaves office?.
“All those sports in the country need to develop is getting administrators to buy into laudable projects started by their predecessors. We cannot move forward when at every change of government we dump policies left by the previous regime.”
Veteran sports journalists, Effiong Nyong, also believes that the initiative will go a long way in solving Nigeria’s problems of talent wastage, but only if genuine sports lovers and philanthropists key into it.
According to Nyong: “It is sustainable if we allow the structures to run devoid of politics.
“We know some great philanthropists who are doing so much for sports, but because they are very rich, they do not have any form of recognition, while some others are given national honours like we just witnessed in the 60 sports icons awards. We are not trusting and building institutions… we design to fail and are always in the short term.”
Nyong said the greatest problem facing an initiative like this is that we continuously have wrong persons in authority, who would rather attempt to rewrite history than acknowledge and reward worthy patriots.
“For instance, how do we honour persons in sports without mentioning people like Dr. Ladipo, who apart from the supporters club, housed, fed, and transported our 1993 Golden Eaglets team en route their exploits in Japan. Together with him, we promoted Harisson Chinedu to breaking the Guinness World Record in 2017.
“There are others, with means ready to do more, but our system must take note of little contributions so that others can be motivated to join the group.
“Joseph Odobeatu Ojez is another of such sponsors neglected by the system. He owns a table tennis club of young stars and quietly he has been producing players. He sponsored a tournament last year and with some encouragement, he can do more,” Nyong said.
Senior Special Assistant to the Sports Minister, Media, John Joshua Akanji, said the sincerity of purpose exhibited by Dare has emboldened sponsors to key into the project.
He said sponsors, individuals, and others now feel comfortable investing in sports in the belief that there are proper accountability and due process.
Listing the achievements of the initiative so far, Akanji said, “The Adopt-A-Stadium Initiative is also paying off with the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja being renovated by Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Daura Township Stadium, Katsina being renovated by Chief Kensington Adebutu, and the Ahmadu Bello Stadium also being renovated by the Kaduna State Governor Malam Nasir el-Rufai. The entire sports spectrum is being revived despite the paucity of funds.”
He said Dare’s masterplan is to move sports away from being mere recreation to real business anchored on four triggers of infrastructure as a catalyst for development, investment, incentives and policy.
“The inauguration of the steering committee of Sports Industry Group, led by eminent personalities is an indication of a new dawn, hope and renewal in the sports sector by the organised private sector.”
According to Akanji, Dare is working with top athletes like Mary Onyali, Daniel Igali, Daniel Amokachi, and Joseph Yobo, among others, to actualise his new vision.
“Since the ministry is limited by funds, the minister is thinking outside the box, by partnering with the private sector, wealthy individuals, state governments, agencies, and international organisations to actualise what he calls a huge, unfunded mandate.”