Thoughts On Repositioning Nigerian Sports (1)

Surulere Stadium Sunday Dare

This is the first of a two-part series that forensically dissects the challenges militating against sports development in Nigeria and proposes possible solutions and avenues to restructure and grow Nigerian Sports.


The questions to ask are: How do we see sports as a nation? What are the various areas of sports? How are we faring in them? What deliverables can we or do we want to achieve with sports? Do we have the consensus, right policy framework and programmes to achieve the deliverables? How do we elicit funding for the implementation of our programmes and the realization of our objectives?

How do we see sports?

Sports has evolved over the years into the following areas:

a) Mass/Recreation Sports – Mass engagement in sports for leisure and healthy living.

b) Youth Sports – School and grassroots sports for talent discovery and development

c) National Competitions – For national interaction, unity and selection/development of Elite athletes to represent the country in international competitions

d) International Competitions – for national pride and international mileage

e) Professional Sports – Career sports for athletes, administrators

f) Sports Business – Professional sporting careers with opportunities for business, enterprise and investments

All the areas are inter-connected and are managed by different organs and institutions. Leading is the Federal Ministry of Sports, then the state sports councils and commissions, sports associations and federations, other sports institutions and professional sports bodies like the League Management Company, the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control etc.

  1. The Deliverables of Sports

a) Public health though mass engagement

b) National unity and international pride

c) Employment generation

d) Generation of business enterprise
i. Sports hospitality services
ii. Manufacture and sales of sports equipment/sportswear
iii. Facilities construction
iv. Events management services
v. Sports media services
vi. Athletes Management

e) Attraction of domestic and foreign investments through:
i. Sponsorships of teams and events
ii. Merchandising of sports-related products
iii. Broadcast and naming rights
iv. Advertisements
v. Athletes/Teams endorsements
vi. Sports construction
vii. Equipment

f) Sports tourism

ISSUES ON NIGERIA SPORTS (How we are faring in the various spheres)

We seem to be concentrating mostly on International Competitions for national pride and have, in the process, neglected other fundamental areas that are crucial to building and sustaining a robust sports culture as the bedrock of our sporting life.

This has hampered our ability to realize the deliverables of sports.

This negativity is supported by the gaps in our national sports policy, programmes and investments as can be seen from the following sub sectoral analyses:

A. Public/Recreation Sports

This fundamental aspect of sports has, unfortunately, been disregarded or neglected both in our policy framework, programmes and social investment.

Whereas there is a universal surge in public awareness on the importance of active living or active engagement in sports for recreation and well being, there is a huge deficit in facilities such that a huge percentage of the population do not have access to sports.

Various communities and neighbourhoods, especially in urban areas, do not have playing grounds or sports centres. In rural areas, there may be open grounds or fields, often limited to football, but there are no equipment or trainers for the effective practice of different sports.

A small percentage, mostly of the middle and upper class, are able to register at fitness clubs or own private gyms.

It is important to note that while mass engagement in sports benefits public health, it also stands as the substructure for a thriving sports culture that will provide the followership and fans base for various sports.

A major problem of this critical sub-sector is that the federal sports ministry does not seem to have any directorate in charge of this need. Establishment and development of facilities for public sports seem to depend largely on if the Federal Government decides to build any facility at a particular time, in most cases for elite sports; and on whatever facilities the state governments can provide in the communities.

Most local governments do not or lack the capacity to make investments in sports facilities.

In view of the benefit to public health, exchange, interaction and friendship for unity and understanding, there is need for the Federal Ministries of Sports and Health to synergise to articulate a policy agenda and sustainable programme for the provision of mass public access to sports.

B. Schools/Youth Sports

This includes school environment, after school, grassroots/community sports.

It serves for the development of a healthy body and mind critical for building young people. Provides the platform for the engagement of youths and serve for the discovery and grooming of talents in different sports for further nurturing into the elite class.

Currently, there are a few national competitions including the National Youth Games, the National Milo Secondary Schools Basketball Championships, the NNPC Shell Secondary Schools Football Cup, NNPC Chevron Junior Tennis, Channels Kids Cup and Channels Track and Field Classics etc.

School sports is not thriving as it used to be for reasons of:
a) Low or zero investment and leading to a dearth of facilities in schools
b) Lack of equipment for various sports
c) Lack of instructors and trainers – The schools no longer have trained Games Masters crucial to sports education and interest
d) Low number of inter-schools competitions at local governments, states and federal levels
e) Lack of sponsorship

This is most felt in private nursery, primary and schools that may presently be accounting for the admission of possibly 60 percent of our pupil/student population.

Most private school owners complain about the lack of space, exorbitance of land, lack of funds to establish sports facilities. The consequence is that we raise millions of kids through schools without access to sports for effective physical, mental and talent development.

The public schools do not fare better. While many have lost their fields and playing grounds, the education sector do not seem to see any premium in investing in the sports aspect as a critical part of its curriculum.

The dearth of facilities, equipment and trainers both in the schools and communities have also constrained “after-school sports” by which both students or graduates can access further engagement in their communities and neighbourhoods. This, therefore, hampers continuity in interest and practice of sports.

In those days, special concessions were offered for admission of students into secondary schools, not only to compete for the schools but also for further training into elite athletes – combining education and sports. Through such programmes, we discovered and groomed a generation of athletes that progressed into the national sports teams, especially in football and athletics. Such athletes were also immediately offered employment in the sports councils, state corporations and corporate organisations with interest in sports. Thus, we were able to establish a system of continuous training and guarantee of upkeep to sustain talented athletes. This is no longer so.

C. Tertiary Schools Sports

Sports in tertiary institutions has dwindled in vibrancy. Whereas it is common knowledge that American sports is developed and sustained mostly through the Collegiate System, we have not effectively involved and empowered our colleges and universities as a veritable platform of our national sports.

It is known that a number of our top athletes have been developed into elite class and sustained through their engagement with foreign universities, especially in America. Our universities do not have this system.

There is no effective connection between our universities and our sports system such as would have the universities apply their academic, scientific and technical resources to support our sports.

Before now, some universities ran special diploma programmes or concessions for admission to degree programmes, to accommodate and sustain the development of elite athletes, but this doesn’t seem to be any longer so.

The National Universities Games (NUGA) seems to be standing on its own and there is little or no reasonable impact of NUGA athletes on Team Nigeria. Both the NUGA, College of Education and Polytechnic Games, as well as the Private Universities Games, are now, more or less, for just fun.

D. National/Amateur Sports

There is a fair volume of activities at the state sports councils and commissions, each state according to its capacity, sustaining the national sports scene.

These activities are however almost only limited to state capitals and few urban centres.

There are a few competitions like the National Youth Games, the National Sports Festival and National Championships in specific sports. The federations also organise championships, but episodically, due to inconsistency in funding. These competitions are however not adequate and regular enough to inspire a robust sports environment and sustain effective sports development.

E. Sports Associations and Federations

The sports associations and federations lack the wherewithal in both funds, development initiatives and management capacity to effectively deliver on their mandate.

Most associations and federations rely mainly on subventions and interventions by the respective levels of government to fund their programmes and activities.

Even at that, there are complaints, allegations and denials that these subventions and interventions do not reach the stated ends or fully so. Most sports associations and federations lack the organisation and professional capacity to promote their sports as well as achieve effective sponsorship marketing.

Consequently, the federations are mostly unable to fund development programmes, training and competitions to promote and propagate their sports across the country, especially at schools and communities.

They are also mostly unable to attend international competitions on their own unless by the funding intervention of the ministry. This denies athletes the opportunity of regular exposure through competitions. They are therefore mostly effective only when needed and so empowered to by their state governments or Federal Ministry to provide and manage athletes for presentation either for national or international competitions.

The process of selection or election of members into the boards of associations and federations has often ended up in controversies and conflicts that not only hamper the stability of the federations but also throw up such negative media exposure that do not inspire the confidence of the sponsorship and corporate community to invest in sports.

The absence of regular competitions and the poor media visibility of athletes has created a huge disconnect between the national sports scene and the larger public whose mass followership is important to feed the attraction of sponsors and investors.

Provision for the welfare of athletes is also a major problem because many of them are unemployed and out of school. The states and federal authorities take care of them during camps for competitions and also reward them after competitions, but after the period they have no further support to continue training. This affects their concentration, interest and determination to aspire in sports.

F. International Competitions

While we can celebrate being among the top in Africa in selected sports, especially at the Africa Games, African Championships for selected sports and at both the senior and age-grade Africa Cup of Nations, it is clear that we have not been able to stretch beyond the continental level, except for the National U17 football team that has won the FIFA World Cup severally.

We also do have a fair presence at the Commonwealth Games. Our performance at the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup for both men and women, and various world championships in selected sports have been unimpressive.

At the London 2012 Olympics, we returned with zero medals. At the Rio 2016 Games, we returned with only a bronze in football. At the FIFA World Cups, we have only progressed to the second round in only a few occasions.

This performance level indicates that we have not been competitive internationally, a pointer to the fact that we have not properly developed our sports to such standard of global competitiveness.

This is as a result of our failure in managing the other areas of sports that lead to the effective building of elite athletes.

In recent times, there has been a recourse by various federations to seek Nigerians in the Diaspora to build the national teams, given the advantage of their environment. There is the argument that such Diaspora athletes are only second rate to their counterparts in their countries of stay, and this has shown in that they have so far not provided us with the expected results.

While it is clear that the recourse cannot sustain our competitiveness to guarantee higher performance in international sports, it is actually an indication that we are not doing enough at home through our policies, programmes and investments at home to build our athletes

G. Professional Sports

Sports offers professional careers for athletes in different sports, providing not only employment with high pay but also enterprise and investment opportunities for promoters in different sports.

The professional sports have their different professional regulatory bodies different from the associations and federations under the state sports commissions and federal ministry. These include such bodies as the League Management Company, the Boxing Board of Control, Professional Golfers Association etc.

Professional sports in Nigeria is near none existent. It can hardly be said that the Nigerian professional sports sub-sector makes any reasonable contribution in this regard because there are not enough competitions and events to sustain meaningfully gainful engagement by athletes.

The Nigeria Professional Football League can be said to be engaging hundreds of players, athletes, administrators, managers and other backroom staff, but the truth is that the environment is nothing comparable to its potentials, in that 90% of the clubs which are financed by state governments are not structured professionally to do business.

For the most part, athletes are involved in it only as an outlet to be foreign leagues even in Africa.

In this regard, Nigeria is rated as the second-largest exporter of footballers but among the least earning.

In boxing, controversies and conflicts in the Boxing Board of Control hampered promotions for several decades.

Currently, the only existing meaningful professional boxing event is the GOTV Boxing Promotions.

In basketball, both the male and the female leagues are now run more as amateur than as professional sports.

Even at that, they are presently a shadow of what a League should be, in that both competitions are run for less than 4 months out of 12. This does not offer reasonable employment for athletes.

An attempt to introduce the African Basketball League which was supposed to be a more lucrative event was frustrated by a conflict of who controls between the promoters and the Federation.

In athletics, aside from the Lagos City Marathon and the Okpekpe Road Race, there is hardly any visible professional competition to sustain athletics career through the year.

In Tennis and Table Tennis, we have the CBN Open and NCC League that offers very little in terms of reward to sustain professional engagement. The Lagos Governors Cup exists but mostly to serve Nigerians as a platform for exposure and to garner ATF and ITF ranking points. This is the same for the Lagos Sports Classics organised by the Lagos Sports Commission for selected sports

Problems with professional sports in Nigeria include the fact that many of the clubs are not structured as businesses. Many clubs do not have facilities of their own. They rely mostly on government-owned facilities which they have no control of or ability to upgrade.

Many of the top clubs in the sports leagues are owned by and rely on state governments for funding.

The clubs fail to promote their games and build their brand and are therefore unable to generate followership, spectatorship and a solid fan base to attract sponsors. They lack sufficient visibility to generate adequate eyeballs to attract sponsors and investors.

Many government-owned clubs are manned by non-business oriented personnel. The clubs are often run to satisfy the state governments and not to appeal to the communities and sponsorship world.

The inadequacies of the broadcasting environment do not support earnings for the clubs and the leagues through broadcast right fees. The domestic infrastructural system including the cost in road transportation, aviation also has debilitating effects.

The media sector is lacking in commitment and investment in the promotion of Nigeria sports. In this regard, the media allows itself to be dictated to by the taste of the public for better packaged foreign sports at the expense of the exposure of domestic sports.

There is apparent alienation and, some antagonism between the media and sports administrators/managers, both walking in different directions. This has occasioned negativity in sports reporting and has hampered the confidence of sponsors and prospective sports investors.

H. Sports Business

The consequence of the problems and inadequacies in the various areas of sports is that sports business is not thriving in Nigeria.

The employment level of the sports sector beyond those employed by the sports councils and ministry as administrators, managers and athletes is very low.

The volume of business in professional clubs is very low. Even in issues of sales and transfer of players, there is hardly anything to show for it in their accounts and club development.

Players agency is mostly done by the academies and agents who are not properly regulated. This is to the extent that thousands of Nigerian players are ferried and stranded in various parts of the world.

Due to scant followership and spectatorship, the clubs are also not able to effectively generate business enterprises for their respective communities from the potential consumptions of fans.

Sports sponsorship is low. Investment in ownership of clubs is low. Sports construction is low as there are scant private sector investments in the establishment and upgrade of sporting facilities, except by a few state governments.

The volume of business and enterprise in the sports kits and equipment manufacturing and sales sector is also low. Earnings from broadcasting rights is now none existent in the country.

Fred Edoreh is the Managing Consultant, Westcoast Projects, and Former Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Lagos Chapter.