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The inter-ministerial technical session: From concept to action

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The new shift in Nigeria’s sports development is expected to lift the country from the lone bronze medal won by the football team at the 2016 Olympics to many medals at international meets.

The session remains one of the best organized technical sessions on sports development I have attended in 31 years. I have been involved in sports matters after our woeful performance at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The two days event brought together experts from the public and private sectors to chart a path for sports as a business. The interface of 10 federal ministries made the gathering unique and compelling.

When Col. Samuel Ahmedu (rtd), my longtime friend called to inform me that Nkechi Obi, the chair of the Sports Industry Thematic Group (SITG) will be calling me, I was not thrilled. In 2014, I was invited by the pioneer Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Muhammed Farouk of the Federal University Kashere, Gombe State to be part of the faculty of education as a senior lecturer to teach undergraduates in the teacher education programme. I collaborated with other colleagues to design new programmes. The experience prepared for my subsequent assignments in Nigeria.

When Nkechi called and explained why she needed me in a sub-group, I reluctantly accepted because I was not sure of my contribution. After the work of the sub-groups was completed, she asked me to lead the Harmonization and Validation Committee. The invitation to attend the inter-ministerial technical session was extended to me immediately as a result of my previous work in the group. I did not want to travel to Nigeria because my Nigerian passport had expired.

The event had six breakout sessions. The sessions explored the value chain of sports, the business approach to the delivery of sports content, girls and women participation in sports, private sector engagement, and the root cause of the problem facing Nigerian sports, especially grassroots sports. I facilitated the youth and sports development sessions.

The relationship between the public (government) and the private (SITG-NESG) sectors were clearly delineated and the role each will play was clearly articulated. The understanding that young boys and girls, sportsmen and women will be at the center of the sports sector reform was emphasized time and again. The role of the private sector would be critical going forward. But more importantly, what does it mean to move from “concept to action?”

One of the fundamental problems facing Nigeria and sports administration and management is the problem of implementation and accountability. It is difficult to implement sports policies and the evaluation of the effectiveness of sports programmes. There are simply no data and evidence-based research to show how programmes and athletes develop over time.

The sports industry value chain needs to be clearly defined. It involves a procedure for bringing together producers, manufacturers, buyers, sellers, sponsors, investors, and government officials at all levels in an interdependent, interconnected framework and network to deliver essential goods and services to the consumer of sports contents.

Sports Minister, Dr. Sunday Dare realized that the Federal Government can leverage on the opportunities and participation to deliver sports as a business. Many ministers of sports have attempted to do this and failed. Sports has the potential to reduce crime and contribute to our GDP. Sports can and should be used as a strategy for solving social challenges and this is the time to take the lead. Minister Dare is keenly aware of this and has made a commitment to do his part, but there are big challenges ahead.

The participation of the youth in the well-being of the nation has a great significance for socio-economic development and improvement. Sport is the platform to aid such development. Sport development is a national priority as it promotes an active lifestyle, child and youth development, social inclusiveness, employment opportunities, peace and development, and above all a sense of belongingness and national pride.

But a coherent National Sports Policy and a Sports Industry Policy are needed to support the recommendations that came out the technical session if Nigeria hopes to become the best nation in sports in Africa and compete favorably at continental and global sports events such as the All Africa, Commonwealth, and the Olympic Games.

The Federal Government will be encouraged to provide the following: enabling legislation for sports; appropriate facilities; monitor and evaluate sports programs offered by National Sports Federations; bring back school sports, and commit at least 25 per cent of its total budget to grassroots sports development.

Nations across the world have enacted laws or enunciated guidelines for the regulation of sports in public interest and in the national interest. The need to regulate and monitor sports arises out of several considerations such as the need to prevent racism, eradicate doping, prevent age fraud, protect athletes‘ rights, prevent child abuse and sexual harassment, protect gender equality, check the growth of betting and gambling, promote professional management and administration and reckless financial abuse, address anti-trust and competition policy issues related to sports, regulate sports broadcasting rights, regulate the price and entry to the digital world of sports events.

There is a need for a body from the public and private sector to manage this new vision. The NESG through SITG has put together a series of events to address all aspects of the Sport Industry.

One of the former Directors General of the FMYS expressed doubt and writes: “Sadiq, just a thought for your committee: As you know, a free-market approach does not have the solution to our country’s socio-economic problems, therefore, we cannot rely on market forces to solve the huge problems of public education, health-care, power, roads, and transportation etc. I hope your report does not insist on dangling the management of our sports in the free market hubris. I hope your conclusion emphasizes the existential need for the return of the NSC. That is the very first right step to take if sports must take the right trajectory.” I partially agree but this is not our focus and direction.

For us, the Next Step has begun.


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