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What is required to realise stadium per state initiative

By Christian Okpara and Gowon Akpodonor
28 March 2021   |   4:20 am
Apart from aerobics and high-octane sporting activities that take place in stadiums, many people cherish the sights and sounds of a day at such facilities.

National Stadium, Abuja

Apart from aerobics and high-octane sporting activities that take place in stadiums, many people cherish the sights and sounds of a day at such facilities.

Even navigating one’s way through the tailgate parking lot, into a stadium on a matchday, also presents immense attraction and spectacle.

Since most sporting fans are besotted with their teams, there is no greater experience than being part of a live game, when a darling team is involved. The stadium is the focal point of that experience.

In the developed world, the availability of stadiums across the country to cater to the sporting needs of the people is seen as a measure of development, as it helps youths to hone their skills and also prepare them for life in the international community, as those exposed to international standard facilities are not overawed when they lock horns at international sporting meets, including the Olympic Games, the World Cup, among others.

Sadly, apart from the dilapidated national stadia in Abuja and Lagos, which are currently being fixed by the Federal Government, the only other standard facilities in the country, which can host international games without qualms are the Akwa Ibom International Stadium, Uyo, and the newly refurbished Sam Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, Edo State.

For a country of over 200 million people, a greater percentage of it being youths, the situation is simply unacceptable because of what the country is losing in monetary value and human development index.

On assumption of office in 2019, Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, said one of his main goals was to ensure that the country becomes one of the reference points when the issue of standard stadiums is being discussed.

He promised to build one standard stadium in each of the 36 states, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to ensure that athletes have facilities to develop their talents.

Noble as the aspiration may be, some people see that declaration as gargantuan, which would not be possible to achieve given the state of the country’s economy.

In recent years, many stadiums in European countries and other top cities across the globe are publicly-owned. This, according to research, has been a trend of larger clubs increasing the ownership control that they have over these facilities and subsequently the revenues that they generate.

In the 2012/13 season of the English Premier League, 18 of the 20 teams owned their stadium, with the only exceptions being Manchester City and Swansea City.

In the German Bundesliga, FC Bayern Munich now fully own the Allianz Arena after acquiring a 50 per cent share from co-tenant, TSV 1860 Munich.

And in the Italia Serie A, Juventus is the only club to own its stadium complex after a successful new development was completed in 2011.

In the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL), all the clubs except two – FC Ifeanyi Ubah and MFM FC of Lagos, are owned and financed by state governments. But while FC Ifeanyi Ubah has its stadium in Nnewi, the MFM FC still operates at the Agege Stadium, a facility built by the Lagos State government.

The world over, stadiums used for multiple purposes have become more popular because they generate additional revenues.

In Europe and the Americas, stadiums are built with facilities for soccer, baseball, rugby, as well as track and field events. They could easily be prepared for any of these events with minimum fuss. That has become the standard in the developed world.

Recently, the Federal Government embarked on the rehabilitation of the Abuja and Lagos national stadia to restore their lost glories, and bring them back to international standard. These edifices, which in the past hosted many local and international competitions, including the FIFA junior championships, All Africa Games, and the African Cup of Nations, among others, were left to rot by successive governments such that the country in recent years has depended largely on the international-rated Akwa Ibom International Stadium, Uyo, as well as the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba and the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna.

At the beginning of his tenure as the second sports minister under the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, Dare also promised that the Abuja and Lagos stadiums would be restored.

He solicited and got the commitment of two prominent business moguls, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and Sir Kessington Adebutu to sponsor the rehabilitation of Abuja and Lagos national stadiums.

The Lagos National Stadium rehabilitation has so far seen the demolition of some businesses and other illegal structures within the arena.

Since he assumed office a little over a year ago, he has been trying to make a success of a sector that has been badly managed and starved of all the necessary ingredients that once made it the best in Africa.

The minister, who insists that he will deliver on the promise to build at least one stadium in each state of the federation, points at the speed with which ongoing works in Lagos and Abuja is progressing as evidence that the Federal Government is on the right track.

In the penultimate week, the minister went around the stadiums to appraise the extent of work done, after which he assured Nigerians that they would start using the facilities this year.

“By the schedule of the contractors, the rehabilitation will be completed by June,” he said, adding that, “things have changed from the way we met them. The adopt-a-pitch initiative is working, just like the adopt-an-athlete programme is also yielding results.”

Through the adopt-a-pitch initiative, the minister said wealthy Nigerians would be brought in to help build new facilities or rehabilitate existing ones in the country’s bid to attain at least a stadium per state.

In this initiative, the sponsors would be given some suits and other amenities in the stadium, Dare said, adding that sports halls and other facilities within the stadiums fall into the adopt-a-pitch programme.

“We are also looking at a project that will ensure we have one basketball court in each senatorial district. That way, each state will have at least three standard basketball courts,” he said.

Extolling the minister’s move to address Nigeria’s lack of quality facilities, lawyer and sports analyst, Sabinus Ikewuaku said building sports stadia across the country would help the grassroots sports development efforts of the government.

Ikewuaku also believes that such facilities when built would be of immense economic benefits to the country.
According to him, “stadiums are not only places where fans congregate to cheer their teams, but where money is spent on merchandise, drinks, and where socialisation takes place.

“Stadiums generate massive amounts of revenue year-after-year. They also serve as tourist facilities where families and visitors go to experience the pull and atmosphere generated by big international events.

“A new stadium brings with it a new wave of adherents in sports, especially if the facilities are made proper use of by teams and associations,” he said, adding that, “the presence of a new stadium can lure individuals or corporate organisations to form clubs and sponsor competitions that would take advantage of the facilities.

“Recall that after the London 2012 Olympic Games, the British government handed over the London Stadium to West Ham Football Club. This move helped the club to expand its yearly seat allocation to its fans, and in the process created more jobs and revenue for the ancillary businesses around the club.

“In Nigeria, clubs like Enyimba and Kano Pillars, which have massive followership, also provide income for many people who have built their businesses around the crowd that throng their stadiums every match day. These include food and drinks sellers, souvenir hawkers, hotelliers, and other service providers tied to the activities in the stadiums.”

Ikewuaku who maintained that the benefits of having stadiums across the country were many, however, queried the capacity of the minister to deliver on such a gigantic dream.

“Most stadiums in the developed world are owned by private entities. In cases where they are government-built arenas, like the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, South Africa 2010 World Cup, and the World Cup scheduled for Qatar in 2022, the sponsors have already mapped out ways of recouping their investments after the competitions.

“The British government handed over the City of Manchester Stadium to a football club, Manchester City, to ensure that the facilities are constantly maintained, just as the many stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup across South Africa have aided the development of the country’s sports, especially the teams now domiciled in the facilities.

“Of course, these governments declared huge profits after the competitions to cover the cost of building the stadiums.

“We all know that when we host international competitions, like the All African Games and the various FIFA junior championships, we hardly break even, not to talk of making anything extra out of these competitions. And so, in the case of the stadiums, the minister must ensure that there are revenue streams that would finance their maintenance. If not, his efforts would go to waste like that made by those before him…they must not become white elephant projects.”

For a former Green Eagles’ winger, Adegoke Adelabu, issues of stadia maintenance and financial management in Nigeria have no solid reference point from where people could diagnose the reasons for neglect and underdevelopment of existing stadiums.

He said, “There was never a time when the financial management of stadiums was a priority for the government to appraise the level of development or participation in sports. I don’t think there was any time in history when the financial status of our stadiums was made public to show how lucrative they were so that it could attract investment.”

According to the former IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan star: “The major issue is that we only prepare athletes for competition instead of developing them for participation; we have settled for collecting money from the government for competitions rather than focusing on sports economy where each athlete becomes a product for marketing.

“We have built stadiums, but without generating activities to keep them alive. We have to look at the needs of the fans and spectators to see what we need to add or remove to make the stadiums convenient for them. These are some of the factors that drive innovations in the sports industry.

“The various ruins of the stadiums that we see across the nation are as a result of our inability to adhere to our sports policy in addressing the astronomical increase in the population of our youths. Strategically, stadiums are built to accommodate the vision to develop our sport and most importantly for revenue generation.”

Adelabu, a sports scientist, revealed that the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, United States, is one of the most profitable stadiums in the world. “It is so because of the nature of activities generated throughout the year. The complex has a capacity of about 20,000, which is one-quarter of Manchester United’s Old Trafford, and one-third of Arsenal’s Emirate stadium in England.

“We have to look at how we can use technology to increase fans’ participation and involvement in maximising the use of the facilities. Corporate organisations should be enticed to advertise their products and use the stadiums’ facilities for events.”

On the issue of maintenance, the former Eko United manager said: “This is the worst of our weaknesses as a nation. We need to develop a culture of adequate maintenance of our infrastructure. I remember on one occasion when we were taking a tour of the Maracana Stadium in Brazil. As we were walking around the pitch, I wanted to feel the grass with my canvas, but the old man in charge of the pitch shouted and rushed at me that I should not step on it.

“The same night, there was a football match and as soon a player scored, he ran outside the field to jubilate on the same grass outside the pitch and the old man ran after him to push him away. We need people who are well trained to manage the grass and the entire facility in the stadia as if their lives depended on it.”

He also advised Nigerians to up the ante as far as marketing strategy at the various stadiums is concerned.
Said he: “We need marketing experts who will turn every space in our stadiums into money-making ventures. Companies could be given spaces around the stadiums to build standard shops for the marketing of their products, unlike the pure water sellers around our national stadiums.

“We could give the car parks out on contract and provide stadium buses that will take people to Lagos and bring them back to pick their cars. There should be halls for conferences, cinema, and even religious activities considering the number of churches we have in Nigeria.” Adelabu urged the government to imbibe the culture of accountability, which is a major issue in Nigeria.

“We need to justify the reason sports is financed in the country. We are the only country in the world that runs sports at a loss. There are several gray areas in our sports development that the ministry of sport cannot handle. We need private partnership ventures to move forward.

“Whatever we write about sport development is purely hypothetical, because we have never been accountable for anything that we did in sport, either during the World Cup, Olympic Games, All Africa Games, and the Nations Cup. There is the need to properly evaluate our performances, concerning the amount of financial commitment so that we could correct our mistakes and project for the future.

“I read an article where some sports administrators in the UK said when it gets to bidding for any competition, they would win because they can authoritatively tell how much the cigarette sellers on the street will make during the competition. In Nigeria, we have seen where we planned to host the Junior World Cup for N39b, but we later spent an additional N9b during the Nigeria ‘99 FIFA World Cup. The Abuja Stadium is, if not the most expensive stadium in the world. What has come out of it? Nobody was fired when rain stopped teams from playing during the junior World Cup because the field was waterlogged.”

To Adelabu, there are numerous business opportunities in sport and stadium management that it should be inculcated into the curriculum at the National Institute of Sport (NIS), which even ex-international sportsmen and women can take advantage of after retirement.

“The future of stadiums must be linked to their ability to generate maximum revenue for the investment needed to build or upgrade them. It is good that some stadiums are undergoing renovation, but my question is how do they plan to get back the money spent. Is that a gift by the government? When are they going to start the renovation of the athletes that are expected to grace the stadia?

“Also, it is important that we equip the renovated stadiums with adequate security and fire protection equipment since we know how easy it is for our #ENDSARS youths to destroy such structures when on a rampage. The government should stop all the betting games in Nigeria and start another one with Nigerian teams,” he said.

Adelabu challenged the government to take interest in knowing what it has, adding that, “except you know what you have, you cannot objectively reflect on their importance in your planning. We have lost the definition of youth in sports in this country because we are always fielding over-aged players in all our youth games.

“Hence, we have systematically lost the fundamental principle of scientific development in the planning and development of our youth games. Nigeria’s family system has been polarised by the infiltration of premiership games. You can even see the madness among our sports broadcasters when they are fighting over Manchester United and other teams on our precious airtime. The question I always ask is, how many TV stations in the world talk about Nigerian games?

“To put our youths in the picture of stadium renovation, there should be a lot of reorientation in what the stadium stands for in the journey of the discovery of the greatness in the youths.”

The National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos was abandoned about 16 years ago, after it hosted the Four-nation LG Cup, which Senegal won, after beating Nigeria 1-0. That was in 2004. Since then, the stadium has changed from a monument of national pride to a symbol of official neglect and mismanagement, with the hallowed turf being in a terrible state, while the seats and tartan tracks are crying for replacement. The media centre at the complex is an eyesore.

However, the complex is coming alive again, after the Ministerial Implementation Committee on the restoration of the stadium pulled down all illegal structures last month.

To ensure that a thorough job is done at the National Stadium, Lagos, Dare had appointed former AFN Technical Director, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama (rtd), as co-chairman alongside the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, Mr. Gabriel Aduda, in the ministerial committee to implement the recommendations of the task force set up on June 9, 2020.

According to Nesiama, the pulling down of illegal structures was a phased approach to addressing the myriad of issues affecting the facility’s master plan, and to make it attractive for a concession to take place. He told The Guardian what the nation stands to gain from the stadium concessioning.

“It gives room, opportunities for professional maintenance and management of facilities, and at the same time helps proper scheduling for use to avoid redundancy,” he said, adding that concessioning stadia would generate revenue that can be shared between government and concessionaires, and also give room for adequate maintenance, which will keep the facilities in good shape to host major international competitions.”

“When well maintained and managed facilities can attract sports tourism. Also, desirous parties can readily seek opportunities for international camping and training tours utilising the facilities. This also has its pecuniary benefits.

“A functional facility, which of course, is a derivative of good management is an employment generating mechanism. It also encourages sports participation as an athlete, for leisure, or as a fan,” he stated.

Billionaire businessman, Adebutu, popularly called Baba Ijebu, who owns Premier Lotto, in December 2019, pledged to renovate the main bowl of the National Stadium, Lagos, and other facilities through the Adopt -A- pitch Initiative. Three months ago, billionaire, Dangote, who also made a similar pledge, fulfilled his promise with the commencement of the renovation works at the Abuja National Stadium, through the same initiative.

While some enthusiasts believe that the new thinking in the sports ministry would boost the country’s economic and social development, veteran sports journalist, Effiong Nyong, doubts the government’s ability to deliver on such a huge programme.

He said: “On the minister’s pronouncements regarding the building of a stadium per state, the question to ask is, what is the state of the existing ones? Why would new stadia be built when the old ones across the country are under-utilised and lacking equipment?

“The stadiums across the country lack qualified groundsmen, who are knowledgeable in the art of facility management. The building of new facilities simply shows that the man lacks information on the real problem.

“Renovation/rehabilitation of existing infrastructure should be the correct thing to do, but the man and his team are simply patronising party faithful, not those with a track record of interest in stadium maintenance.”

According to Nyong, “To maintain facilities properly is to put such facilities into proper use. One sure way is to decentralise the secretariat of all sports from Abuja. The country is diverse so also is talent; sports should be located to where people are naturally endowed. Experts should be engaged to go to the field as scouts.”

Nyong argued that local councils and states should be hunting grounds for talents while the national associations provide guidance and leadership, adding that “private organisations should be given tax rebates to encourage them to invest in sports by adopting talents and sports, as well as developing facilities as recreation grounds.”

A former director in the Federal Ministry of Sports, who pleaded anonymity, doubts the ability of the Federal Government to achieve the “stadium per state” dream owing to current economic realities.

He said: “Building stadiums in the real sense is capital intensive and takes a long time. Even if it is going to be a partnership between the government and individuals, it would still be difficult to get the type of money needed to build 36 new stadiums.”

The former director also believes that maintaining and upgrading existing stadiums would serve the country better, rather than embarking on unrealisable projects.

He advocated the training of more facilities maintenance experts, stressing that “facilities maintenance is a subject on its own and you need people who are professionals in the field.

“The National Sports Commission (NSC) of those years had a very strong Facilities Department with personnel in all the Federal Government-owned stadiums, but I don’t think we have that now. And believe me, at that time it was not capital intensive.

“Now things have changed, but it could still be done that way, even now,” he said.