Journalism in the service of society

Sport in a New Nigeria

WHATEVER happens in the ongoing national elections in Nigeria, I predict that the country will never be the same again. 

A new demography has joined the ongoing political ‘war’. This is an army of irrepressible young and educated people determined to change the political landscape with their energy, vision, knowledge, new media, creativity and the spirit of entrepreneurship. 

There is a re-alignment of old political groups, and the creation of new movements in the country in the struggle to control the reins of power. The product of these agitations and developments will surely introduce new dynamics in governance beyond May 29, 2023, when a new federal government comes to power.

It is a generational passage with a younger generation playing much bigger roles in government, and holding them more accountable. 

In the sports sector where I belong, there is an effort to seek more recognition and move up sport on the ladder of priorities of governments at State and Federal levels. Before now and for decades, sport has occupied the lowest rung in the priority of successive governments. That needs to change.

Globally, the power of sport to influence social, cultural and economic development is gaining momentum and there will be no stopping it when the youths clearly see its power and also how it can be effectively deployed to change their world.

My own personal understanding of the power of sport derives from a few experiences, one or two of which I shall share here as a part of my humble contribution to setting an agenda for sports in the new governments.  

My first experience was visiting the Amsterdam Arena, home of Ajax Amsterdam FC in Holland, many years ago. 

The Arena never sleeps. Driven entirely by private-sector participation, activities within the huge complex go on 24 hours every day, 7 days a week, all year round. It is one of Holland’s biggest tourist destinations and a major  contributor to the economy of the Municipality of Amsterdam. 

Even as the home ground of Holland’s biggest football club, the game itself is the least activity going on in the Arena. I repeat for emphasis – limited to the few hours of training and a once in two weeks the bi-weekly home matches of Ajax Amsterdam football is the least of the activities going on at the Amsterdam Arena. All the other activities are the ‘fuel’ driving the profitability of the place, and making it operate 8 days a week!

Under the banner of Ajax Amsterdam FC there is everything imaginable related to the entertainment industry in the environment driven by the followership of the football club – banks, art centres, museums, restaurants, casinos, conference centres, media organisations, bars, lounges, shopping malls, business centres, spas and gyms, hotels, betting shops, and so on and so forth.  

That’s how sport should be seen in order to understand the scope of its power to achieve specific objectives that, on the surface, may or may not be related to sport.

Take Qatar and its hosting of the last World Cup. The football of the 2022 FIFA World Cup lasted only 29 days, when over one million football fans and other tourists descended on the city/State of Qatar to watch and to be associated with the 64 football matches of the FIFA world Cup. The reality is that, for a project that lasted 8 years from when the bid to host it was made, the matches were the least activity in what is called Qatar 2022.

This is a project that took 8 years to execute, following very tight specific timelines that must be met for the 64 matches in the final month to take place.

Every sector of the economy was engaged to design, construct and put in place everything needed to accommodate, entertain and engage the millions from around the world that descended on the city – immigration, security, health, business, transportation, hospitality, tourism, banking, engineering, manufacturing, entertainment,  and so on, all of them working for 7 to 8 years in a race to meet the challenges of the fastest development project in Qatar history.

The World Cup is much more than a football event. Football is the least activity in that whole project. 

There are many other examples of how sports events are the special delivery vehicles for huge agenda for organisations and governments. 

The Grand Slams of tennis, the Grand Prix of car racing, the Diamond Leagues of Athletics, the various Leagues of football, and so on and so forth. 

Around 2002 or so, I attended the World Scholar Games in the University of Rhode Island in the USA. The United Nations were there to introduce a new, special sports unit in the UN, headed by Senegal’s Dr. Djibril Diallo, with the mandate to use Sport around the world to drive aspects of the Millennium Development Goals objectives including eradication of illiteracy, poverty, hunger and disease amongst the youths of the world. That was the highest recognition of the potency of sport to impact society in history.

Even FIFA, in 2010, used the World Cup in South Africa to drive the ‘One-Goal, Education for All’ project of the United Nations, getting World Leaders to join in the campaign to enrol out-of-school children around the world into schools.

Sport is easily and readily available for countries that are able to look beneath the superficiality of sport as mere recreation and the winning of medals and trophies.

Sport has to be seen in the context of a whole eco-system to be appreciated by governments, particularly of Third World countries that never treat as it as a national priority.

The Nigerian government is guilty of this with its placement of sport in governance and in national development.

The achievements by the Film and Music industries in Nigeria, with local artists becoming global superstars and growing the local industry and national economy, have become a strong elixir for development of those industries, and models for treatment of sport in the incoming dispensation.

Leadership of the sports sector is going to be crucial as new governments take over power at Local government, State and Federal levels. Only, qualified persons with knowledge and experience in sports administration and the industry must be sought and engaged to drive a new sports industry eco-system in Nigeria. 

The era of appointing persons without solid backgrounds in sport and the industry as Sports Commissioners and  Sports Ministers must come to an end. Sport should be treated as a specialist sector under technocrats and persons with strong sports backgrounds. 

That’s why as governance in Nigeria enters a new era within an emerging new World Order, the place of sport must be clearly more than the pedestrian attention paid to it till now. Things must change. Sport must move into the priority list of governments. 

Sport, professionally and carefully harnessed, can be a major change-agent that can create job opportunities for millions of the country’s youths, build a healthier citizenry, join in the effort to eradicate several social scourges in society, engage the most talented youths in various sports activities and events, build a Race of athletes, sports fans, and sports business people across all professions (law, health, education, architecture, engineering, media, and so on and so forth) and ‘satiate’ the passionate, almost fanatical, followership of sport in Nigeria with ‘power’ that can positively change their society.

 Dr. Olusegun Odegbami MON, OLY

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