Experts chart path to virile sports economy
Sports the world over is big business. It ranks among the highest employers of labour in many countries of the world. In the developed world, governments spend enormous resources to develop the infrastructure and personnel to ensure that talents are discovered and developed to become big players in an industry almost equal in size to science and technology in the elevation of society.
Sports provide the avenue for children from humble backgrounds to escape from poverty and become role models for youngsters aspiring to become great names in society. Thus, such talented players like golf’s Tiger Woods have been turned to billionaires by their ability to rise beyond the ordinary in their chosen profession.
In Nigeria, the government still sees sports as a social service, which is meant to entertain the citizenry, as well as serve as a unifying factor for a people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Nigeria has not maximised the huge potential in its large population to reap the economic benefits in sports. This is because successive Nigerian governments see investment in the sector as social responsibility to the citizens and not a viable business capable of turning poor boys and girls into national leaders.
It is unfortunate that Nigeria has hosted several international competitions and built the accompanying facilities, yet a few years after the flags were lowered, there is nothing to show for the investments in such competitions in terms of facilities and structures for human development.
While such countries as the United States, England, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, China and Argentina, among others, have developed their basketball, football, tennis, boxing and athletics into multibillion dollar industries, Nigeria, like many countries in sub-Sahara Africa, still see sports as mere entertainment that keeps the people happy.
A few Nigerians have managed to break from the shackles of neglect to make names and fortunes for themselves outside the country. Some of the athletes, especially basketballers, boxers and footballers, among others, have leveraged on the opportunities provided by overseas countries to become billionaires affecting the fortunes of their immediate and extended families positively.
Even though a footballer like Kelechi Iheanacho is not doing so well in his English club, Leicester City, he still earns more than £70, 000 a week. Basketballers like Ike Diogu, Ike Iroegbu, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ekpe Udoh, Michael Eric, Chimezie Metu, Tony Skinn, and Derrick Obasohan play for top clubs in Europe, Asia and the Americas and earn millions of dollars yearly.
In his days of glory, Samuel Peters earned more than $5 million per fight. His reign as the world heavyweight champion brought wealth, fame and many privileges that he would not have gained if he did not take his skills to the United States. Today, Efe Ajagba and Efe Apochi are living their dreams in boxing in the United States.
Stakeholders in Nigerian sports argue that these stars would not have achieved their current status if they did not take their skills to more appreciative societies. There are so many lost dreams littered in the country to buttress their claims.
But there seems to be a slight shift in government’s thinking recently.On assumption of office, current Sports Minister, Sunday Dare promised to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria’s growth in sports, both economically and politically. He said the sports industry he envisions would rank almost at par with that of the more developed world.
To achieve this, Dare said he would pay premium attention to grassroots development and trainers’ education. The Minister said his “agenda can be categorized in the twin goals of developing appropriate Public Private Partnership model and delivering on the establishment of a private sector driven Sports Development Fund to support, as well as, invest in various programmes and Sport facilities.
“The overarching goals of these initiatives aside creation of wealth and jobs. In order to achieve these set targets, the Sports Industry Thematic Group was born through the Ministry’s interactions with the organized private sector using the platform of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG)”, he added.
While highlighting the importance of private sector partnerships with the public sector in tapping into the business potential of the sports sector, Dare stressed the need for a framework for tapping into the business potential of sports development and its commercialisation, which will be provided by a National Sports Policy.
“It is imperative that the National Sports Policy Document is tailored to reach mutual understanding, vision, policy and targets in the field of sports. It will also provide coordination and cooperation in the services and activities of the relevant public institutions, organizations and non-governmental organizations as well as other stakeholders.”He described the proposed policy as a roadmap towards the achievement of national development goals related to healthy living, economic growth and sustainability, promotion of equity and excellence, in addition to creating wealth and employment for the citizenry.
In an interview with The Guardian, former national tennis star, Dr. Sadiq Abdullahi, who is a member of a panel set up by the sport ministry to find a way of aligning Nigeria to international best practices, described Nigeria’s failure in sports as the outcome of systemic neglect of the basic ingredients that create success for countries.He said, “In the past two decades and in the last three Olympics cycles (Beijing 2008; London 2012; Rio 2016), a number of sports stakeholders have discussed sports reform initiatives put forth by the government in power. Nothing substantive in achievements was recorded by previous administrations headed by Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan.
“Obasanjo failed to create an enabling environment for sports to thrive before he handed over to President Yar’Adua, who died in office and President Jonathan took over with a lot of promise. “London Olympics in 2012 was a disaster. Jonathan quickly organized a Presidential Sports Sector Retreat with the aim to address the root cause of our poor performances in continental and international competitions.
“Some of the objectives of the retreat include: 1. identify prioritize sports, 2. develop concrete action plan and 3. address grassroots sports. President Buhari inherited a concrete plan for sports development including a National Sports Policy framework. In a nutshell, pre-Buhari era was an abysmal failure. Then came the Rio Olympics 2016, which was also a disaster.
“With the blueprint for sports development in place, stakeholders became optimistic that President Buhari would build on the existing structure. Instead, Barrister Dalung, the sports minister quickly set up a ministerial committee headed by Godwin Kienka to review the state of sports and offer recommendations, which the committee did. Nothing has come out of the recommendations. The current situation is pathetic and shameful. Dalung attempted to restructure the national sport federations to respond to global sports exigencies and be autonomous and independent.
“In 2017, elections were held and new people got the opportunity to serve but almost two years in their service, it has become business as usual. Many sports federations have failed to carry out their mandate. “Some national sport federations such as Basketball, Wrestling and Football have made marginal progress. This is encouraging but efforts to transform grassroots sports is lacking. In this sense, President Buhari administration has not done much for sports development going into his second term. Sports are not considered critical or a priority areas. This is a big mistake.”
For the current sports minister to change the narrative, Dr. Abdullahi says the sector should be aided to reinvent itself. He added: “Federal and state governments have a limited but important roles to play. We have to return to the school sports. We have to regain private sector trust. We have to shun corruption in sports federations and finally, we have to return the National Sports Commission.”
Dr. Abdullahi believes that Nigeria will produce more sports millionaires if the athletes were given the enabling environment to develop their talents, adding that the few Nigerians doing well in Europe and the United States were excelling because they are motivated to do so.“There are several factors that contribute to Africans success in Europe. They are classified in two categories: Nature (Biological) and Nurture (Environmental). The first category is the area of psychology of the African footballer going abroad to play. They are highly motivated and prepared to take advantage of all the opportunities that come their way.
“They overcome all adversities and guided by agents appropriately. The second category is environmental. This is a big factor. This is also cultural. These African footballers may have received a weak training but they are highly gifted and talented. The successful clubs in Europe, France and Germany are aware of this and are willing to pay for productivity and outcome.
“When African footballers produce on the field, their value and TV ratings increase. They become marketable and accessible to fans and national football federations. They strive to meet expectations and fulfill contractual agreements. They receive first class coaching and training as well as good advice from outside. They also receive a well-crafted insurance and welfare package that guarantee and safeguard their careers for the short time.
“As a result, they have the feeling of superiority and domination. They also know there is the fatherland to return to if they wish. “The facilities in these countries appear favourable to the African footballers and they enhance their performance and dominance.” Respected academic and sports consultant, Professor Patrick Omo-Osagie believes that changing the story of Nigerian sports is a simple task for anybody prepared to tackle the issues headlong.He said the first shock the minister would receive is the little money available to run sports, adding, however, “the minister’s job is not to waste the little resources.”Prof. Omo-Osagie points at the national stadiums in Abuja and Lagos as huge investments that the ministry must find something to do with them.
“They can call on the Abiola family to help resuscitate the stadium because it bears the name of their patriarch. They can also invite the private sector to invest in it.“There is also the option of creating a Trust Fund for the stadium and allowing the private sector to handle that completely.”Prof. Omo-Osagie also wants some autonomy for the sports federations so that they can source for funds for their programmes outside government funding.
“I am an advocate of transparency and I mean all the federations should ho and register as not for profit companies. That way whatever they get will be public knowledge.“Let the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) become the NBBF Incorporated, whose books are open to the public at all times.“That way when government gives them money everybody will know. There will no longer be secrecy in the subventions they get from international bodies.
“Being registered federations will give them the opportunity to source for funds from the private sector. If they were registered, at the end of the year, they list their programmes and the sources of funding for them.“I hope the minister is enlightened enough to know how to source for funds outside government budget. He has to find other ways to be productive by raising money for his ministry’s needs.”
Prof. Omo-Osagie sees football as the sport that could lead the way in making Nigerian sports self-sufficient. This, he says, can be achieved through prudent and transparent management of its resources.He kicks against the huge benefits paid to players of the national teams, adding, “you do not pay players $10, 000 per match in a country that has no money. Nobody pays that kind of money to players anywhere in the world.
“They work on a budget and you don’t borrow money to play bloated bonuses to players.”Writing in his book ‘Odyssey Of A Green Eagle: From The Pitch To The Summit,’ former Director General of the national Sports Commission (NSC), Dr. Patrick Ekeji dismissed the belief that Nigeria’s huge population was enough to push it to victory at sports competitions.He argues that producing top athletes and winning world championships requires the proper institutionalization of the NSC as the sector charged with the appropriate mandate.
“This actions is more likely to fast track a sustained production of champion athletes deriving from the expected outcomes from the application of knowledge in the areas of programme management, sports medicine, deployment of funds and engagement of available facilities.”
He said the ministry, as currently constituted, couldn’t take sports administration in Nigeria to the desired heights.“It leaves room for political heads to take unilateral decisions that affect the course of sports development and in many cases, the consequences may be irreversible or at best erode any benefits that a hitherto and very well articulated policy would have if implemented.
“For instance, the recent reversal of the policy that expanded the zonal structure from 12 back to six is very counterproductive. If the NSC had a council, such a decision would have had the benefit of informed opinions.For Nigeria to reclaim its place among the elite sports countries of the world, Dr. Ekeji said there must be a programme that would seek, nurture and expose the athletes to the best training and facilities.
“In sports, the interplay of variables that ultimately produce one medal of any colour is at best described as complex. It takes a long gestation period, which begins from childhood. It requires not just funding, but appropriate mentorship in all ramifications, which include parenting, school, provision of the right environment that has necessary facilities and equipment, the right type of coaching, appropriate Medicare and motivation.
“At the level of elite, athletes must come under the supervision of appropriate personnel who must have been groomed to be managers, then leaders, then strategic thinkers and ultimately team players.” Shortly before his committee round up its work, former international tennis star, Godwin Kienka, who headed the sports reform committee set up by immediate past sports minister, Solomon Dalung, told the media that Nigeria would become a big player in sports business if every stakeholder, especially administrators, played their roles honourably.He said: “There’s insincerity of purpose, greed, lack of respect for the athletes and the failure of not seeing sports as the second largest employer of labour that would create wealth for the athletes, their parents, their communities and the society at large.”Kienka noted that solution to Nigeria’s present quagmire is the business community, which comes from a private sector.
“Only a business mind can think of sports as a business entity. The civil servants have all the pulses, but multiplying it is a problem because they are comfortable, waiting for their salary at the end of every month work or no work. “Hopefully, when we submit our report to the minister, we don’t intend to stop there. The public must know what we’ve recommended and that is a blue sprint that will ensure that all federations are a billion naira or dollar organisations.
“It is our desire to see sports take off on a good ground irrespective of who the minister is. The moment the private sector is convinced that funds made available for sports are used for the purpose that it is meant for, the federations would be able to operate independently.“Let me give you a very clear example of what I mean; Egypt’s national football team came to Nigeria and pulled a draw and ousted Nigeria in the return leg of the AFCON 2017 qualifier despite the political turmoil that was going on in the country. “Sports were not affected by the politics and unrest there because they have an entrenched sports system that no matter what happens, it remains operational. That too is possible in Nigeria,” he concluded.
Two years down the line, Nigerian sport is still down, waiting for help from the new leaders of the sector.There is the belief among followers of the Nigerian sport that the current regime will set the stage for the sustainable development of the sector. This belief stems from the quality engagements the minister, Sunday Dare, has made since assumption of office, as well as the willingness by majority of the stakeholders to do things differently.
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