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Future of sports in Africa after COVID-19

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Last Monday night I was a panellist on an international virtual conference that involved Liberian President and former World Player of the Year, George Opong Weah. It was truly a great pleasure listening to him talk about the past, the present and the future of African Sports in the new world post-covid-19.

The conference was organized by African Sports Ventures Group, ASVG, as part of the events marking Africa Day 2020, the 57th anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, (now African Union, AU) in the city of Addis Ababa. In 1963, African political leaders had come together with a grand vision and plan to establish a united, vibrant, powerful African Union that would chart a course leading to Africa’s complete emancipation from the fangs of colonialism, economic enslavement and dependency, and into freedom, power and prosperity.

It was a very ambitious project. 57 years into the journey, questions are now being asked why the continent has failed to deliver on virtually every promise. Covid-19 has finally opened up the continent’s fragile underbelly for all to see.

Former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, wrote in this week’s Newsweek International magazine about a ‘Marshal Plan’ to be drawn up and driven by the African Union, to bring together the countries of Africa around an integration and development agenda post-COVID-19.

South Africa’s political leader and activist, Comrade Julius Malema, advocates a borderless Africa, with one currency, one President, one Language and an integrated economy.

The Liberian President, George Weah, said in his keynote speech that the future is bleak for African Sports because the opportunities that existed for the movement of African athletes to Europe and other places pre Covid-19 would no longer be available for years to come. He says Africa must start to think deeply and differently in order to find internal solutions to the many challenges that have arisen from the pandemic.

I did not prepare a paper for the conference because I believed it was unnecessary. My conviction, also echoed by many other panellists drawn from different backgrounds and from several African countries, was that the past was a continuation of colonialism and slavery in other forms, but the future holds great promise because the world will never be the same again after Covid-19, and Africa is still relatively virgin territory. With re-set of its original vision, deep thinking outside the box, Africa can re-invent itself anew, and create a great future using its vast human capital and natural resources as tools.

Sport will be a very useful vehicle in this enterprise even though Africa does not have a rich history of deploying sports to best and optimum use. Its message and power have never been fully appreciated by governments because it is still perceived as a recreational exercise occasionally uniting the people during international sports events. Governments across Africa have not understood what Nelson Mandela meant in 1995 when he witnessed the transformative power of the Rugby World Cup held in South Africa and declared that ‘Sport has the power to change the world’.

Senegal is throwing some light on the way forward through the innovative promotion and management of its local Wrestling, a traditional sport of the country that has become so popular in Senegal that it has become the country’s number one sport (even ahead of football) attracting unprecedented domestic followership, gaining international status and traction, impacting on the social and economic life of the people in Senegal, and already attracting the inevitable interest and patronage of the private sector to become a major economic contributor to the country.

The lesson here is that even the local ‘products’, the domestic leagues and competitions, must be very friendly to the eyes and entertaining in order to attract locals to pay, to watch, to ‘own’ the clubs, and to follow the game massively. Sport has to be engrained in the culture of the people and the country for it to thrive. Then it can become a big business and a contributor to a country’s economy. For sure we cannot adopt the models of the West and hope to succeed in the emerging new world order after Covid-19.

All African countries must start to take the issue of sport seriously and to make it a priority. Examined closely, governments will find sport a useful and potent political tool that can drive health and wellness of the citizenry, eradicate illiteracy and hunger, create jobs and engagement opportunities in all related sectors of hospitality, leisure, tourism, urban planning, law, science, technology, medicine, media and so on and so forth.

Africa must create local solutions. The continent must reposition sports development. Government and parents have to assume major roles at the lowest levels to ensure mass participation by all boys and girls. Every citizen must be involved in making things to happen. The clubs, federations and the leagues, will then take over the development of the identified elite athletes

In Africa, education of the youth is critical because knowledge is the power that illuminates opportunities and possibilities. The schools must be the foundation of sports.

Africa must start to think differently, think fast and think big.

The world is entering an era where those that will survive and succeed must be truly innovative and creative. A fusion of sports with other arms of the entertainment industry will be a good starting point. Both will tap elixir from one another. This fusion will become the arrowhead of a Cultural revolution that will make integration of all African people possible. Sports, entertainment and Culture can anchor and catalyse this revolution.

My first recommendation for the actualization of this dream post-covid-19 is the redesign and revival of the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture to now include Sports. This will become an annual platform, outside of politics that has failed for 57 years to find a common ground, where robust intellectual conversations will take place under the cover of a cultural celebration that will regularly bring Africans and Blacks in the Diaspora to a meeting place in the continent, one country after the other as host, to actualize the dream of a united Africa of the continent’s founding political fathers. Covid-19 provides the painful but needed opportunity, ingredients and the environment for this to happen.

Africans must seize the moment and convert this their greatest tragedy into their greatest triumph.

Corruption in Nigerian national teams – not news!

I am shocked that people are shocked that there are financial and other inducements in the selection of players into the national teams.

I have watched in amusement at the spate of allegations by players and coaches being bandied around about incidences of inducements, offered or taken, in order for players to be invited to the national teams, or to play in matches.

My question is this: have we stopped being Nigerians?

Offering and taking of bribes, in one form or the other, is in our DNA. It is happening all around us on a daily basis across all sectors.

There is no Nigerian alive that can vouch that there isn’t bribery in Nigerian football. The people in football are not from another planet. There are always on-going influences and influencers at work – parents, agents, coaches (foreign and local), managers, players, everyone is involved in influencing, or trying to influence, in one way or the other, the careers of players and coaches.

Deals are being negotiated everywhere and called different names, but at the end of the day, it all amounts to Corruption. Even foreign coaches are not immune to it. Have we not heard several accusations amongst them also in recent times?

Unless we fumigate Nigeria herself and stamp out corruption as the norm in the country, we cannot play the Ostrich by trying to isolate football and set it up for castigation. Abeg, make una leave our football alone!


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