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Sporting in Nigeria must be an economic success, says Dare

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Sunday Dare

Sports Minister Sunday Dare is a man with many dishes in his pot, determined to make all tasty. Since he assumed office a little over a year ago, Dare has been pushing the whole broth, trying to make a success out of a sector that has been badly managed and starved of the necessary ingredients that once made it the best in Africa.

The Ogbomosho-born journalist is not without his critics, as there are those who believe there are more to the Jos-raised technocrat than just a desire to change the narrative in Nigerian sports. But he is undaunted. He continues to push his trolley, recruiting many along the way of making the sports industry one of the leaders in the country’s battle to regain its place among the successful in the comity of progressive nations.

At the weekend in Lagos, Dare met with a group of journalists, where he stated his journey so far and his vision of the country’s sports sector during his tenure as the minister.

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While he has long term, medium term and short term targets, Dare said his immediate pursuit is to turn country’s sports into an economic vineyard that would compete with oil and gas in the race to make Nigeria a big economy. This quest, according to him, is channelled through the new Sports Industry Policy, which will serve as a catalyst for transforming sports into a big business sector when operational.

Acknowledging that his quest could be hindered by paucity of fund, the minister revealed that he has enlisted the support of the private sector, adding, “We cannot continue to rely on budgetary allocation to run sports in the country, the private sector must come in.

“The new Sports Industry Policy seeks to create the enabling environment for sports to thrive and for the private sector to come in,” he said.

The Sports Industry Policy, which is yet to become law, according to the minister, will address the four key areas of Infrastructure, Investment, Incentives, and Policy to transform Nigerian sports.

“Sports can become the new revenue channel for government because people in the sports industry will pay taxes, VAT, while ordinary Nigerians will make money through merchandise and other trades associated with sports.

“In Europe and other places, there are a lot of commercial activities built around stadiums and other arenas. So, apart from sportsmen and their officials, who live through their talents, many other people make their living through the sports economy. This is what we want to do in Nigeria,” he said.

On the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which has been moved to next year, Dare said the process of getting Nigerian teams ready is on-going, adding that efforts are being made to ensure the country not only participates, but also return from the games with medals.

“The Olympics is not more than six months away and we have started camping our athletes to get them back to fitness after the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We have four camps in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Akure and Lagos. Next year, we will begin a more robust camping with some of the athletes going abroad to train with better facilities.

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“We decided to go for 11 events against the usual 21 and 28 sports because we want to concentrate on areas we have comparative advantage.

Rehabilitation work on the Lagos National Stadium will be completed by middle of next year.

“Our programme is leveraging on a document put together by the Jonathan government after the country’s poor performance at the London 2012 Games. We want to concentrate on those sports we have strength and talent in and then look for quality coaches to get the best out of these talents.

“After National Sports Festival in February next year, we will move to the National Youth Games and from there continue the build up to the Olympic Games,” he said.

Building quality facilities and getting good coaches, which are key to producing international standard athletes, require heavy investment and for a ministry that barely gets enough funding for its recurrent expenditure, it is an impossible task. But the minister says he is working to overcome such handicaps.

“We have asked for the 25 per cent of the Lottery Fund to come to sports. Jamaica and England give from 31 to 38 per cent of the total of their Lottery Fund to sports, but right now we are getting nothing from the fund. We hope to get the approval for the Lottery Fund money in the first quarter of next year.”

On the adopt-an-athlete campaign, which the minister introduced to cater for athletes’ welfare, Dare said it has been quite successful so far, adding that by next year, the ministry would take it further to acco0mmodate more athletes.

“The initiative provides $10, 000 training fund for home-based athletes, while overseas-based stars get $20,000.

“The money goes direct to the athletes, who are expected to use it to take care of their training, medicals and travels for competitions.

The benefitting athletes sign MOUs with the adopting companies or individuals so that all the parties are protected.

“The initiative was stalled by the COVID-19 outbreak this year, but many companies have lined up to be part of it. We are looking at an initial 48 athletes.”

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On the promise to build at least one stadium in each of the senatorial districts of the country, Dare said the project is receiving urgent attention, adding, “We have only one FIFA standard stadium in Uyo, which will lose that status in 2021. That is why we are resuscitating the stadiums across the country.

“With the adopt-a-football pitch programme, we will recover the national stadiums in Abuja and Lagos through Dangote and Chief Adebutu (Baba IJebu) respectively.

“At the Abuja Stadium after the renovation work, we will brand 5,000 pitch panels with Dangote logos. He will also get some suites and other amenities in the stadium. The Abuja Stadium will be ready by July 2021.

“The Lagos Stadium will also be ready by the middle of next year. Baba Ijebu, who is bankrolling the reconstruction of the pitches and tracks, among others, will get the same consideration as Dangote.

“We are shopping for somebody to bring back the terraces of which 80 per cent is still in good condition.

“We have also brought back some indoor multipurpose sports halls, but we are also looking at building new ones.”

Dare revealed that the funding for the mini stadiums across the country would come from the ministry’s budget for 2021, saying it is part of a new culture of sports development that he wants to enthrone.

He added: “We also want to take the adopt initiative to teams beginning with the Tokyo-bound national basketball teams. We need a lot of money to prepare and sponsor the teams to Japan because of their special conditions. The players can only travel first class because of their special status in their various clubs.

“Although most of them are very rich, we still need to do our part to make them comfortable while playing for the country.

“Our focus is beyond football. We want to develop other sports, which is why we celebrated cricket the other day for going ahead to hire a world-class coach for the national teams. This is in line with our vision of charting anew trajectory for sports development.

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“We will try to help the leadership of other federations to look for ways to develop their sports from the grassroots. That is why we are looking at having at least one basketball court in each senatorial zone. Other mini facilities will be built across the country such that children will always have places to train and play in their communities.”

He said the ministry of sports has developed a grassroots programme that addresses youth development, adding that the federal government is rebuilding the Games Villages across the country.

“The Edo State government has written to take over the Afuze Games Village and the Presidency has accepted the request.

“By January, we will pay all the vendors that supplied equipment to our high performance centres so that they we can open them for use.

“The contractors still have the manuals to these equipment.

“We have given the directive to reopen the National Stadium and very soon it will be thrown open to athletes,” he said.

The minister disclosed that a committee has been set up to review the operations of the sports federations, which have been classified into A, B and C categories. He added: “We are looking at their composition, functions and method of entry into the boards. That is the only way we can get them to operate according to the set standards.

“We asked the federations to submit their constitutions, but as we speak only a few have done that. We tackle that problem next year.”

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