WHAT NIGERIA MUST DO TO BENEFIT FROM ORGANIZED SPORTS - A SPORTS ENTHUSIAST’S PERSPECTIVE
In its original forms and iterations, sports existed as a showcase of the outsized capabilities of certain talented individuals. Having evolved into a means of entertainment, organized sports has become a socio-cultural and economic phenomenon, and a substantial part of modern life. TV and particularly the internet, transformed sports into big business. From eSports, to sponsorships, TV rights, sports gambling and hosting rights for big events such as the World Cup and Olympics; organized sports presents tremendous economic opportunity. Societies that have been able to tap into the full potentials of organized sports have benefitted immensely from its inherent gains.
The global audience for sporting events ranging from FIFA Men’s World Cup event to the Olympics, to Major Tennis Grand Slams, Formula 1 Races and Athletics Meets, are in the billions. For instance, in 2106, the estimated TV audience viewing for the UEFA final match between Portugal and France was 600million. Fast forward to 2021, the total cumulative TV audience for the European Football Championship (Euro 2021) was estimated to be over 2.5 billion. That’s one third of the world population tuning in at one time or the other to enjoy one sporting event Western countries are scaling up their investments in sports programs and activities more than ever before. The global sports market revenue as of 2021 was estimated to be about $500 billion. Without a doubt, the economic power and potential of sports is immense and growing at an exponential rate.
I have identified five (5) aspects of organized sports that Western economies have harnessed to make sports financially viable, also a tool for national and global social cohesion. I will address each aspect briefly.
This is an entire eco-system built to fill a nation’s sporting pipeline identifying, nurturing and developing individuals with exceptional sporting talent. The process commences from an early age and progresses until they are ready for competitive and professional participation. Western countries have systems (in collaboration with educational institutions from primary to tertiary levels) that are designed to identify sporting talents, and are resourced to create the enabling environment necessary for these talents to flourish. Studies show that most world-record beaters at their sports were discovered between the ages of 5 and 12. These are the formative years for the sporting mind and body, and it is critical for these talents to be nurtured and developed from this stage. Most of the big names in sports today (Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal, Lebron James etc.), were discovered in their teens and have been nurtured to global prominence by a support system that is specifically structured for that purpose. Nigeria needs to develop a similar system for identifying and nurturing sporting talent.
SPORTS RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
A branch of sports research that is gradually gaining prominence is Sports Science. Sports science is the scientific study of physiology, psychology, biomechanics and nutrition. It also delves into understanding the role of sports and exercise in social policy, ethics and philosophy. This is an area of study that should be invested in and incorporated into our nation’s University curriculums in order to gain full understanding of the potential and impact of sports on modern life.
THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS
From professional leagues, to sporting equipment, sporting apparels, nutrition, broadcasting, sponsorship and sports marketing to other subcategories - organized sports is BIG business. The business opportunities are myriad. Our nation’s business community must recognize and tap into the economic potential of sports. There’s no reason why Nigerian sports broadcasting and marketing companies cannot become global titans like ESPN and Excel Sports Management (agents for global athletes like Tiger Woods).
SPORTS AS A TOOL OF SOCIAL CHANGE
That sports bring people of diverse culture, religion, ethnicity and race together cannot be overemphasized. Sports is one of the strongest unifying factors in the history of mankind. Properly harnessed, sports is capable of quenching the divisions and healing age long differences amongst different people. Not many things have the potential to break down barriers and build bridges like sports does. Historically, sports has been a means of highlighting issues of common human interest – social justice, economic emancipation, human rights, ecological peril etc. As a nation, we can imbibe these lessons and utilize sports beyond mere entertainment. We can support athletes and amplify their voices when they chose to speak up or engage in activism for the betterment of humanity.
This is what brings all the other elements of sports together. The management and administration of sports is the mostly heard but not seen hand that makes the wheel roll. Our sports ministry must shift its mindset from that of a cost center with marginally successful athletes on the world stage, to a profit center that turns out world-class, high-performance athletes.
HOW TO CONVERT THESE OPPORTUNITIES INTO TANGIBLE BENEFITS
Nigeria must pay attention to the aforementioned five aspects of sports in order for our nation to derive the full benefits of organized sports. Here are some other thoughtful ideas about how to activate these key aspects:
Talent Identification and Nurturing: The Playground to Podium Approach - First off, our approach and mindset must change. It must evolve from merely poaching self-made athletes to developing talent by systematically creating a pipeline of sporting champions in different sports. This can be done by collaborating with primary and tertiary educational institutions in identifying and recruiting young talent. This is what I refer to as the Playground to Podium approach to talent discovery and development - all the way to champion status. Of note, sports can be a means through which our nation’s youth can be positively engaged in meaningful endeavours. Sports opens up horizons that can elevate young people from obscurity and poverty to prominence and prosperity.
We must diversify our investment in sports to cover as many sports as possible. From a sporting perspective, we as a society, are too mono-cultural. We only tend to develop interest in and focus on a small number of sports – namely: football and track and field. There’s a long list of sports that Nigerian athletes could excel at – provided we invest in them adequately and put the right structures in place. A number of sports come to mind - Rugby, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Lawn Tennis, Long Distance Running, Swimming etc.
For all the above reasons, Government must scale up its commitment to promoting sports. The total budget for sports in 2022 was a mere N193billion of the total national budget of N10.74Trillion. Does our country need to invest more in sports? Yes, we do.
An intervention program akin to TETFUND can be implemented for sports. This would ensure funds are allocated and used strictly for the development of sporting facilities around the country and to support identified sporting talents.
Private direct investments in sports needs to be incentivized and sustained over the medium and long term. This has the potential to lead to huge returns in terms of human capital quality, direct foreign earnings, direct foreign investments, growth in employment opportunities, positive global image and influence, as well as other unquantifiable gains.
I hope as a nation, we can make the necessary pivot to make this all happen.