The celebrations after the national elections are still ongoing. But those are the easiest part. There are still the high expectations of Nigerians to meet, a monumental mountain that GMB United must climb!
The general feeling amongst Nigerians is that General Muhammadu Buhari and his winning team can turn Nigeria into a global social, economic and political giant within a short period of time.
With a combination of uncommon charisma, integrity, incorrigibility, courage, discipline and vision all rolled into one, there cannot be a better and more qualified person to lead the team. With a fraction of the kind of luck that has seen Nigeria through many of the country’s unplanned-for achievements in sport, GMB will succeed and Nigeria will become a different and better country.
That is the hope and the people’s expectations. The only condition for this to happen is that every sector will have to play their part well and become major contributors to the process of development.
That’s why for us in the often under-rated sports sector, our sails must be caught in the gale that is blowing across Nigeria presently. We must ride with the moment and make a solid case for the enthronement of sport in its rightful place in the country.
The failure of past administrators to articulate the issues and successfully present sports as an essential and very critically important part of the development agenda, has positioned it painfully at the bottom of the rung of priorities of successive democratic governments.
The few agencies and parastatals of the sports ministry are in Category C of the Civil Service, the lowest cadre in the country.
All the sports facilities and infrastructure belonging to the federal government continue to suffer the worst kind of neglect and decay.
All those involved in sports, particularly retired athletes and administrators, end up as shameful reminders of how a country should never treat its heroes.
Obviously, previous governments did not demonstrate an understanding of the power and influence of sports, beyond the medals haul from major international competitions. They saw sport as a recreational pastime that brought the occasional honour and glory to the country through winning trophies and medals.
It is a rather sad commentary that sports have been reduced to become the least important in the priority list of governments’ developmental agenda.
Yet, the rest of the whole world dread the time when Nigerians will appreciate the enormity of the natural human resources they are squandering in ignorance and decide to exploit them. Sports in Nigeria is gold waiting to be mined!
To change the fortunes of sports, we must change our mindsets. We cannot continue to do things the same old unsuccessful ways and expect different results.
That’s why the present political change portends hope of a renaissance.
For the umpteenth time I am proclaiming to Nigerians that sports offer the country a great deal more than medals and trophies. In the new political dispensation, sports must be repositioned to make maximum contribution to the change mantra.
The evidence is all around us of sport’s ability to impact on a country’s socio-political and economic landscape. An examination of how some Third World countries (Jamaica, Kenya, etc) are exploiting it should serve as a compass.
The goal of sports should not be only to win medals but also to use it to impact the lives of the greatest number of its followers.
In short, sports must be seen in the totality of all it can contribute – enhancing the health status of the youths and citizens; driving education and eradicating illiteracy through enrollment into schools and making sport an integral part of complete education; developing the domestic sports and hospitality industries; empowering the youths with skills and initiatives that will enhance their chances of successfully participating in the burgeoning global sports industry, creating new and exciting self-employment opportunities; and making sports a major contributor to the economy of the country.
In addition, and as a consequence of all the above, sports will start to produce in a large, steady stream many more and consistent athletes who will win trophies and medals, and enhance the international image of Nigeria!
That’s why a simple, clear, practical, functional, and uncomplicated plan must be put in place to drive Nigerian sports into the new era. We have been part of the call and struggle for change. Now that change has finally come, our excitement is building.
The field is virgin. The territory is largely untouched, untapped and not spoilt. Sports can become a national cash cow without disturbing the country’s political and economic equilibrium. It is a silent contributor that requires looking at through the right lenses for it to be fully appreciated.
For those of us in the business, we see an opportunity to escalate the level of discourse that will promote sports and the business of sports in Nigeria in the new dispensation, beyond the medals to be won at major competitions.
With the political will to back it, the sky will be the limit for sports in Nigeria!