As a multicultural nation, Nigerians have over time developed a great passion for sports which is seen by all and sundry as a unifier.
This undoubted passion for sports has seen Nigerians going beyond the shores of the country through their televisions to satisfy their passion with foreign sports such as the NBA, Premier League, La Liga, Formula 1, and the UEFA Champions League,
Foreign sports over the years took over Nigerians’ interests in the local and national sports primarily because of the corporate branding surrounding the foreign sports and according to the Oxford dictionary, branding is “the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design”.
As part of branding comes partnerships with corporate entities who use the platforms these sports offer to market their products to the fans that watch them.
Using football as an illustration due to its status as the king of sports has a cult following in Nigeria as hardly will one pass through a street where bars, event centers, hotels are not displaying football on their screens in a bid to lure people to them and sell their products and services.
Despite the undying love for sports as a whole, Nigerians have ‘abandoned’ their own to stay glued to foreign content as its uncommon for an average sports fan to mention at least 5 names from a local club but will gleefully mention the team A, team B, even mention the whole technical bench, including the referees of a foreign league.
Over time, sports has given youths from humble backgrounds an avenue to escape poverty and make their lives including family better while becoming role models and inspirations for those behind them. We have the likes of Victor Osimhen who hawked pure water on Lagos streets becoming the most expensive African player following his move to Napoli.
Foreign countries have developed their sports into multibillion-dollar industries but in Nigeria, sports is seen as a recreational service only meant to entertain the fans as well as serve as a unifying factor for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds while ignoring the economic benefits that can be gained from sports.
It will be noted that foreign countries used sports to kickstart their economies and bring back some normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted the entire human race but it was the other way round as the government decided against reasoning as at then to reopen the sports industry.
During electioneering, politicians simply see the sector as social responsibility and vote-garnering platform and not a viable business capable of turning poor boys and girls into national leaders.
Despite the ‘investment’ in sports by successive governments, little or nothing has been reaped from such investments in terms of human development.
In the Nigeria Professional Football League, players are owed several months’ salaries and yet the salaries are nothing to write home about in the first place compared to their counterparts in foreign leagues who earn salaries on a weekly basis.
Analysts have been able to find out that this disparity is caused due to a myriad of factors mainly bad “packaging”, lack of relatable content, security challenges, and most importantly, lack of vision of the numerous business and investment opportunities that abound in sports.
A former Statistician-general of the federation, Yemi Kale, rated sports’ contribution to Nigeria’s economy low, saying the sector accounts for 0.005 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Speaking at a recent Nigerian Economic Summit pre-summit webinar themed “Re-categorization of Sports as a Business Sector of the Economy’ held recently, he said Sports is valued at $500 billion globally, however, the sector accounts for 0.005 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP which is not good enough.
He described sports as a small business in the country but insisted that the sector has the capacity to stimulate economic growth and urged the nation’s sports managers to agree on sporting activities that would constitute and focus on data integrity.
“Sports remains a small business in Nigeria but has the potential to be much bigger. We need to agree on what sporting activities should constitute and focus on data integrity, collaboration with relevant agencies and most importantly ensuring the steady funding for data computing as related to the sports industry,” Kale stated.
This is a stark difference as sports alone contribute £39 billion to the UK’s economy and a significant portion of this comes from grassroots sport according to reports. The same reports reveal that in terms of employment, sport is estimated to support over 440,000 full-time equivalent jobs – 2.3% of all jobs in England.
However, the Minister of Youth and Sports development, Sunday Dare revealed the federal government’s new plans to reclassify sports in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government is identified as the major proprietor of sports in terms of funding and infrastructural development but with the new policy to be put in place, sports will experience a massive turnover to becoming self-sustainable and even contributing to the economy.
The scheme indicated to be centered on major sports leagues, is to be achieved by the implementation of licensing and financial controls.
“In June, the Federal executive council, actually, for the first-time reclassified sports from mere recreation to business, Go to Jamaica, Brazil, South Africa; countries where sports is built around a business model, you see the returns,” he said recently
The Sports Minister further revealed the country generates around 350 million naira annually which is ridiculously low compared to other nations.
“In the UK $42 billion every year, in the United States $38 billion and globally $1.3 trillion whereas in Nigeria we get N350 million.
“Now we want to explore the possibilities, the potentials so that this country can also try to reap from sports as a business,” he concluded.
On assumption of office, Dare promised to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria’s growth in sports, both economically and politically as he envisions the industry would rank almost at par with that of the more developed world.
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 Sports facilities.
“The overarching goals of these initiatives aside from 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 a chat with Ifeanyi Anaemena who plies his trade with Saudi Arabian Premier League Side Al Nahda FC said Nigerian clubs are way behind foreign clubs.
The former Rivers United defender said it is bad for clubs to suspend players because they asked for their salaries,
“Nigeria clubs are very behind in all area of all that has to do with football. it sounds weird but it is the truth. The situation in Nigeria is bad and you are owing players who depend on the salaries,” he said,
The acting commandant of Nigeria Army Armour school, Bauchi, Brigadier General Savior Peter Akpan in a chat said sports can help reduce joblessness which will play a huge role in ending the escalating insecurity in the country.
“We have some youths who are working as caddies here and they are paid. It is veritable avenue to create jobs and any government that embraces sports reduces joblessness and by extension, insecurity,” he said.
The onus now lies on the government at all levels to fully embrace sports and see it as an avenue to improve the economy through job creation, and infrastructure development amongst other indices and Nigeria will once again be on the path of progress and development.