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Thoughts On Repositioning Nigerian Sports (2)

Sunday Dare
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This is the concluding part 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.

Read Also: Thoughts On Repositioning Nigerian Sports (1)

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

1.  Articulated/Integrated National Sports Policy                                                            

We need to come to terms with the evolution of sports through various sub-areas, to determine what we want to achieve through sports in contribution to GDP and nation-building, in recognition of its deliverables.

* Our determination to realise the deliverables will inform the agenda of a new national sports policy and the formulation of development programmes, initiatives and schemes as ways and means to to achieve them.

* It must be noted that the various areas of sports are interrelated and the neglect of one area can stunt the growth of other areas. For instance, if we do not deliberately promote a vibrant public sports programme, we cannot achieve the national sports culture requisite to sustain mass followership for the attraction of sponsorship brands and corporates which will, in turn, sustain national, international professional sports and indeed, sports business.

* Similarly, if we do not invest in schools and youth sports, we cannot build a globally competitive generation of sportsmen and women.

* This means that we must be ready to deliberately cause disruptions in the structures of our sports institutions and their mandates both through necessary legislations and new practices

* The new policy should clearly define the role of governments, local, state and federal, associations and federations, the Olympic and Paralympic Committees, Professional bodies, and the organised private sector with a clear articulation of areas of partnerships and incentives for investment.

* The new policy should be drafted in consultation with the local, state governments, the sports committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, the leadership of sports federations, professional sports bodies, sports sponsorship brands and organised private sector to elicit consensus and commitment

2.  Mass/Recreation Sports 

* It must be emphasized that there is need critical need to recharge public/mass participation in sports. This is crucial towards building or reviving public sports culture to generate mass enthusiasm in sports.

* Besides the benefit to sports development, this social investment can reduce incidents of deadly diseases and reduce public expenditure on health

*. This means we have to develop a programme for the creation, provision and recovery of sports centres and parks to provide access for mass engagement in sports.

* There are issues about the availability of land space, especially in the cities. This can be overcome through acquisition and designation of lands for the construction of Mini Multipurpose Indoor Sports Centres and mini playgrounds across communities.

*. The facilities can also be sited at schools and opened to the public at minimal fees to support maintenance.

*. The construction, management and maintenance of the facilities will create both direct jobs for designers, contractors and local workers as well as indirect jobs for hospitality service providers, thereby supporting economic growth and prosperity.

*. This programme will also create a surge in the demand for sports wears, kits and equipment to support enterprise

*. The community sports centres can also serve neighbourhood schools – public and private – which do not have sports facilities. The private schools can be made to pay minimal fees for usage, to support maintenance.

*. To achieve this objective, there is the need for synergy between the Ministries of Sports and Health to articulate the case for need, and collaboration with development agencies and corporate organisations to support funding with naming rights and other possible incentives as return on investments.

*. The local government councils and the state governments should be partnered to share equity, especially through the provision of land spaces.

3. Youth and Schools Sports

*. There is an urgent need to boost youth and schools sports. We must determine not to go on raising kids without providing them access to sports as is required for wholesome physical and mental development.

*. The biggest issues for schools sports are a lack of facilities, equipment, qualified sports instructors and competitions.

*. While it might be necessary to legislate on the need for schools to provide playgrounds or sports centres as part of conditions for approval or renewal of a permit to operate, it must be accepted that the biggest issue for many private schools is the unavailability and high cost of land, but this can be helped through various strategies.

*. The beginning point is to improve on collaboration between the Ministries of Sports and Education in planning, sourcing of funds and implementation.

*. It is necessary for both ministries to establish a joint committee on schools sports to work with the Schools Sports Federation as well as the National Universities Games Association and those of the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education to articulate action plan, identify areas of need and strategies for implementation.

*. It is possible to establish a special funding scheme for this mandate and seek partnership with the corporate community with good articulation of incentives and return on investment.

*. The government, through the Central Bank, can also establish a special low or zero interest intervention loans fund for the purpose of construction of schools sports facilities and acquisition of equipment.

*. This scheme would also create jobs for the sports construction sector, equipment suppliers, local workers and maintenance officers.

*. There is the need for a re-assessment of the efficiency of the High Performance Centre at the University of Port Harcourt with a view to determining inputs required for better effectiveness.

4.  Funding

*. Central and critical to the development and growth of the various sub-areas of sports is access to funds required for the establishment of new or renovation or upgrade of existing public or private sports facilities; the training of trainers; provision of equipment; talent discovery and athletes development; athletes welfare; organisation of competitions; entry in international competitions etc.

*. It is common knowledge that the budgetary provision of the sports ministry is hardly adequate to scratch the needs.

*. While we recognize that there are competing needs from other sectors of the economy, it is important for the Federal Government to recognize the global evolution of sports into a big economic sector and to invest more through budgetary provisions towards repositioning the sector to attain the new potentials for contribution to national GDP.

*. The UK Sports system which provides about 60% per cent funding for England Sports is an exemplary model. It receives funds via taxes on sports betting and other sponsorship sources and deploys them to establish facilities and provide equipment in various communities and schools as well as support elite athletes development and other programmes through grants and payment of coaches.

*. Accordingly, there is a need to establish a special sustainable funding scheme for our sports through the following platforms:

a) The National Sports Lottery Fund

The National Lottery Trust Fund was set up to draw from lotteries to complement the government in the transformation of various sectors.

The bulk of lotteries in Nigeria is through sports betting. It follows that sports should benefit a larger chunk of its funds. This, sadly, is presently not the case.

In my view, the fund has only pretended to be doing so, as it has no visible impact on sports development, outside the impression that it provided sports equipment like footballs and rackets to about 2000 schools in 2017.

There is the need to take a critical look at the legislation establishing the fund to determine its applicability to sports development and or to solicit for an amendment to the act such as to cause it to be tangibly applied for sports development.

It is also not in order for the Trust to solely determine what it does for sports with the fund without the advice or involvement of the ministry of sports.

It is my view that this issue should be brought up for redress at the Federal Executive Council and at the National Assembly, to refocus the fund and insist on the recommendations of the Hon Minister of Sports in the deployment the Lottery Trust funds.

The effective application of the Lottery Fund can make for 50% of our funding needs for the revival of our sports in line with a new policy framework.

b) National Sports Endowment Fund

We need to revisit the National Sports Endowment Fund scheme. This, besides the Lottery Fund, is critical to complementing government in funding sports.

The scheme existed before now with the championship of the likes of MKO Abiola and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. My finding is that it has been somewhat compromised and registered as a private affair.

We can revive this fund through legislation and invite eminent and senior citizens to anchor it.

The fund can draw sponsorship through donations, grants and possible tax on company profits as with TETFUND. It has existed before and it can be revived.

c) Team Nigeria Public Private Parthership

There was the Team Nigeria Project for the funding of Elite Sports. It was a partnership between the public sports establishment and the Organised Private Sector with the involvement of the Nigeria Stock Exchange or Securities and Exchange Commission which aided the project to access sponsorship from the corporate community and brands, with their involvement in the application of the funds.

The project was especially useful in the sponsorship of the training and equipment of Team Nigeria’s Elite athletes to the Abuja 2003 and Algiers 2007 All Africa Games, the Afro-Asian Games, Melbourne 2006 and New Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games by which athletes not only received training grants but were also taken to foreign training tours in preparation for major international events like the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. It also supported selected federations to attend various other international events for the exposure of athletes.

There is a need to see how we can revive the Team Nigeria Public Private Partnership as a strategy for sustained funding of athletes development and participation in international competitions.

d) Ministerial Engagement With the Organised Private Sector

*. The Hon Minister is the face and number one marketer of all levels and areas of Nigeria sports.

*. Outside the government, the corporate community is the next platform with the financial capacity to support sports development.

*. There is, therefore, a great need for the Hon. Minister to consciously develop a strategy of deliberate and consistent engagement with brands and the corporate community to create the needed relationship, confidence and partnership elicit sponsorships and investments.

*. The government can roll out a set of special incentives to attract and sustain a great partnership with brands and the OPS.

5.  Federations

*. There is a need to take a critical look at the process of constituting the boards and leadership of federations with a view to ensuring that resourceful and committed persons emerge.

*. It is observed that a high number of members of the boards of federations are redundant, mostly only looking out for opportunities that can accrue to them through activities funded by the ministry.

*. The federations have to be supported to develop better corporate and sponsorship marketing platforms.

*. It is observed that the federations can possibly do better with more resourceful, employed and target driven secretaries or CEOs as against just secretaries sent to them by the ministry. This is because whether the federations perform well or not, they are guaranteed their pay and promotion as Civil Servants.

6.  Sports Education 

*. The biggest sports education centre for the training of coaches, administrators and managers is the National Institute for Sports.

*. It is observed that the institute is not delivering to its optimum. This may be due to lack of funds and technical capacity.

*. The facility needs to be restructured to raise its funding and technical capacity to deliver not only as a training ground but also as a research centre for new trends and innovations in sports.

*. Students of the centre can be deployed to primary and secondary schools from time to time for Industrial Attachment as part of their curriculum

*. There is a need for the institute to go into collaboration with tertiary institutions to support their research processes and technical exchange.

*. There is also a need to revive the institute’s earlier partnership with the Australian Institute of Sports or other international sports resource centres, as earlier initiated during the tenure of Segun Odegbami as a chairman of the Governing Council.

*. There is also a need to take a look at the process of appointment and suitability and effectiveness of persons into the council or board.

7.  Professional Sport

* Notwithstanding that professional sports may be outside the purview of the sports ministry, it is important to recognize that the success of every sector depends on government policies and actions and the Hon Minister is in charge of the fortunes of our sports.

* The ability of the sports sector to generate meaningful employment, enterprise, domestic and foreign investments depends mostly on the professional sub-sector which is run as a business.

* The volume of activities and level of success in professional sports directly affects the development of amateur sports and impacts greatly on the sports economy.

* It was in realization of this that the UK Government provided the initial funding of £150m for the formation of the English Premier League and are now reaping the benefit through its contribution to the GDP. The operation of LaLiga, to the minutest aspect of a match day, is also backed by Spanish Royal Decree.

* In view of this, there is the need for the Hon Minister to engage the various professional sports bodies to identify their prospects and problems and work together towards repositioning the following areas:

a) The Nigeria Professional Football League

The basic question to ask is: why is our league so different in terms of yield from many others across the world? How is it that they pay such weekly wages, such huge transfer fees and attract ownership, sponsorship and broadcast fees investment, such huge merchandising and digital media revenue and followership, while we are unable to pay meagre salaries regularly? Can this state of affairs sustain a robust league economy? Why is ours so different? What is our vision, objective and target in the Nigeria Professional Football League?

The following reasons have been adduced:

Majority of the clubs are owned by state governments and are not structured as business entities.

The owner State Governments do not bother about financial returns from investment in the clubs, as they see the clubs as social service for youth engagement.

Appointments into the boards and management of the clubs are therefore not done competitively and therefore do not engage sports business professionals.

There are no professional initiatives by the clubs to raise their fans base to attract spectatorship and media followership.

The absence of good spectatorship and followership is a disincentive to sponsors and investors.

Majority of the facilities are not spectator and viewer-friendly.

The Nigeria broadcast environment has not shown capacity and commitment to buy in through payment of broadcast rights fees and well-packaged productions.

Live broadcast production at the league centres is too expensive due to the fact that the stadiums do not have adequate media and communication facilities.

The poor state of the league has constrained brands and corporate organisations to sponsor the broadcast of foreign leagues and promotion of foreign clubs which steadily erodes fans interest in the domestic league with consequent export of spendings on the merchandises of foreign leagues.

To broach the problems, the Hon Minister needs to engage:

The League Management Company and the Nigeria Football Federation to synergise on how to reposition the league;

The State Governors to point out that their strict ownership of the clubs without a mandate for business is not helping the growth of the league and, together, explore strategies to involve the private sector and communities in club ownership and management in a sustainable way;

The Nigeria broadcast industry to explore ways of ensuring broadcast and good coverage of the league and domestic sports in a mutually beneficial way;

Media owners and the sports journalism sector to impress on them the imperative of supporting greater coverage and visibility of the league as a commitment to nation-building;

The organized private sector on the need to support the league through increased sponsorships and endorsements to sustain a vibrant league which in turn will reduce the drift of football fans towards the foreign leagues;

There is a need for an upgrade of the stadiums mostly owned by the federal and state governments to ensure they are more spectator friendly and with facilities needed to support top-grade sports.

b) Basketball League

The Hon Minister needs to engage club owners, the leadership and other stakeholders in basketball with a view to reviving and revamping the male and female leagues;

Particularly, the Hon Minister needs to find out what happened to the Africa Basketball League which provided higher pay to sustain professional careers in domestic basketball

c) Pro Boxing

*. The Hon Minister needs to engage the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control to explore how we can achieve more boxing promotions to revive professional boxing

8.  Deliberate investment in Sports Tourism Events

*. There is a need to work with various professional sports bodies to create top range professional sports competitions and events in Nigeria that can attract top global sports stars and personalities.

*. This will not only boost international sports tourism in Nigeria, but it will also ensure that Nigeria is constantly talked about in world sports, attract the sponsorship and investment of top global sports brands and foreign sports investors, and inspire athletes in the domestic scene to aspire to greater heights of achievement.

9.  Para Sports

The world has evolved from sympathizing with physically impaired people to providing them wide opportunities to excel through sports. These days, there are various professional sports structures for disabled persons to ensure higher social inclusion and a better life for them.

These include Professional Amputee Football in which various top clubs in Europe and America run amputee teams, Professional Para Powerlifting, Professional Para Swimming, Athletics, Blind Football etc. There are a number of Nigerian Professional Amputee footballers in England, Poland, Turkey and other places. The physically challenged persons in Nigeria have demonstrated a capacity for excellence in sports as can be seen from their consistently high performance at the Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games, World Championships etc.

As we speak, the Africa Games has been structured into two separate platforms just like the Olympic and Paralympic Games. While the able-bodied athletes concluded theirs in August, the physically impaired class will have their Africa Para Sports Games in January in Morocco. This shows that Para Sports is gradually being made to stand on its own.

Unfortunately, Para Sports In Nigeria is not well enabled, both in organisation, funding, facilities, logistics and availability of competitions.

It took a huge effort to raise private funds for the Nigeria Amputee Football Team to attend the Amputee World Cup in Mexico in 2018 after they missed out on three previous occasions due to lack of funds.

Similarly, the Nigeria Para Athletics team with huge talents and potentials to produce medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics are suffering serious constraints in accessing funds to attend various events which serve as qualifiers for the Paralympics. They have only managed to attend 2019 Grand Prix in Tunisia at which they could only present four athletes out of 20 they had projected to attend. To their credit, the four athletes returned with 6 gold and 4 silver medals.

The Para Athletics team have also missed out on the subsequent Grand Prix in Paris held in late August because they couldn’t raise the funds. 

Besides winning medals and earning some rewards, the support for Para Sports inspires persons with disability to aspire for a meaningful life through sports, thus presenting a new lease of opportunities for the special category and changing perceptions on disability for both sufferers, families and the public.

Para Sports cannot compete favourably with the able-bodied sports in sponsorships marketing, corporate support and media exposure. There is need therefore for special funding as well as technical and marketing support for the group.

We can set up a special fund for the development, promotion and sustenance of Para Sports in Nigeria.

There is a need to support the institution of Amputee Football and Blind Football leagues as well as a Nigeria Para Sports Festival to provide more accommodation for persons with disability through sports.

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

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