When a national team returns with a laurel, every Nigerian celebrates. And when success appears unattainable, most people turn spiritual, seeking divine help. But not many play an active role in the painstaking process of building a virile, competitive national side.
Quite a number of sports lovers blame the government for poor funding of the sector. But government appears overwhelmed with other priorities such as infrastructure, health and education to give much attention to sports development. And when it does, its efforts rarely go beyond tactical intervention such as payment of athletesâ€™ allowances and logistics bills.
Building an enduring sports sector is not a quick-fix. It requires strategic and sustained investment. As demanding as this task is, the recreational appeal of its result presents a unique opportunity for corporate organisations and individuals to promote their brands â€“ a reason sports sponsorship has emerged both as a specialised investment window and as a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform.
But sports investment might not be particularly an exciting subject in Nigeria, perhaps because the sector requires a long-term funding arrangement which is yet inaccessible. The loss to a cold investment market is seemingly compensated for by the fast-growing number of corporate organisations that are embracing the sector as a viable CSR vehicle.
Promasidor Nigeria Limited, makers of Cowbell Milk, Top Tea, Loya Milk and other quality food products, is one among other companies that are making a vast socio-economic impact through sports CSR. Apart from one-off activities, which are regular in its corporate kitty, Promasidor has been able to sustain its key initiatives, which are aimed at building future athletes.
For instance, the company has consistently sponsored the Cowbell Football Academy (CFA), a programme it unveiled in 2012. For its steadfastness and robust youth summer programme, CFA has entrenched itself as a household name in the football community with officials of the Nigeria Football Federation and leading ex-internationals, including ex-Super Eagles captain, Segun Odegbami and former Barcelona FCâ€™s defender, Gbenga Okunowo, describing the initiative as one of the most effective youth development CSR projects in the country.
Sponsored by Cowbell Milk, the official milk of the Nigerian Olympics Team to the 2012 Olympic Games held in the United Kingdom, CFA is not only a training platform but also a mentorship forum. At its recent Summer Camp held in the National Stadium, Lagos, ex-Super Eagles stars, including Mutiu Adepoju, Franklin Howard, Odegbami and Okunowo, were on ground to motivate and share their experiences with the kids.
The former Managing Director of the company, Chief Keith Richards, who unveiled the CFA initiative five years ago, did say that those who passed through the academy â€œwill soon begin to shine.â€
Richards was not a prophet but a corporate leader. But in this particular case, he got his prophecy right. Two years after CFA kicked off, Toyeeb Gidado, who has been with CFA from the onset, hit the national limelight. Gidado captained the Under-15 Team Nigeria at the 2014 Youth Olympics held in Botswana, which won the soccer game gold medal.
At the finale of 2017 CFA Summer Camp, Gidado said: â€œI am excited about the opportunity Cowbell has given me. I captained the Under-15 Team Nigeria at the 2014 Youth Olympics and we came back with the gold medal in the soccer game. The training I received at the academy makes me what I am; several clubs have shown interest in me. The training CFA gives us does not end on the pitch, it makes us better citizens.â€
Corroborating Gidadoâ€™s position, Howard, former captain of the defunct New Nigerian Bank Football Team, described Promasidor as a winner, saying CFA and other similar initiatives would help the country to hone the skills of young players and create a national pool of talents.
â€œThe contribution of Promasidor has been very supportive. Both managerial and tactical aspects of CFA have been fantastic. Promasidor is a winner because it associates with winners. The company has been very consistent with its CSR. The good news of CFA is that some of the boys will be part of the junior teams in the nearest future,â€ Howard predicted.
Speaking through its NFF First Vice President, Seyi Akinwumi, at the 2016 edition of the camp, NFF noted that CFA would contribute greatly to football development in Nigeria. â€œApart from catching the young school children and schooling them on football, the NFF has also realised that they are being taught discipline, interpersonal and communication skills, which help them to excel in any endeavour,â€ Akinwumi said.
Of its objective, Promasidor Nigeria has maintained that CFA was aimed at building responsible citizens and a national football Nigerians would always love to celebrate. And nothing is more assuring about the future of the Academy than the assurances of the Managing Director of the company, Anders Einarsson.
His positive disposition does not stop at mere promises. At the opening of the 2017 Summer Camp, the Promasidor Nigeriaâ€™s boss joined the kids in session and exhibited his football artistry. An excited Einarsson also promised that the company would continue to sustain the tempo of interest that CFA had raised, while urging Nigerians to â€œmake the best use of the opportunity.â€
Parents and other stakeholders, who are immersed into the transformative impact of the academy, could only wish that the company expands the content of the Academy to cover other sports.
Promasidor Nigeria has programmes that have caught the attention of other sports lovers. One of such activities is Loya Swim Meet, a secondary school swimming competition. The maiden edition started last December in Lagos, featuring 10 students who participated in three categories â€“ 25 metres freestyle, 50 metres freestyle and 100 metres freestyle.
The competition, which was held at the Grange School, Lagos, had 10 secondary schools in attendance. The participating schools included Dowen College, Chrisland College, Greensprings School, Halifield Schools and ST&T Regency International School. Others were Supreme Education Foundation, Queensland Academy, Grace High School, Avi-cenna International and Honeyland College.
Following the success of the first edition, the company followed up with another competition held in Port Harcourt, Rivers States, where different schools in the state showcased their amateur athletes. The competition is structured to hold in different states to reflect the national appeal of Loya Milk, the sponsoring brand.
Speaking at the Lagos event, Marketing Manager, Promasidor Nigeria, Mr. Abiodun Ayodeji, said: â€œAt the heart of Loya Milk is the need to improve the well-being of children, and this is achieved not only by providing the best nutrition but also by identifying with a sport that promotes this wellbeing. Swimming is a 360-degree sport that involves all parts of the body. It also helps to maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart, muscle control and it is a fun exercise for children.â€
Promasidor has also demonstrated its love for sports through the sponsorship of the Cowbell Chocolate/NYSC Female Volleyball Competition. For its consistency, the company has received commendations from the National Youth Service Corps who has urged other corporate entities to emulate its gesture.
During a recent edition of the event held at the Lagos State NYSC Orientation Camp, the State Director of the Corps, Cyril Akhanemhe described Promasidor as a pacesetter. According to him, the company has consistently created an excitement for NYSC members and brought to limelight the sporting skills of the participants. A camp commandant, Major Shehu Bashir also added that the company has impacted the countryâ€™s sports development by encouraging youths to channel their â€œefforts towards their physical fitness.â€
Lesser known sports have also attracted the intervention of Promasidor. Two years ago, it donated 1,000 hockey sticks to the Lagos State Hockey Association as part of its contribution to the development of the game in Nigeria. That was at the Lagos State Secondary Schools Sports Festival tagged IBILE Games 2015.
Presenting the equipment, the Head Legal and PR, Promasidor Nigeria, Andrew Enahoro said: â€œThis is Promasidorâ€™s way of giving back to the society and keeping the kids away from the streets. This is the first in the series of donations we are going to make.â€
Secretary General of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), Tunde Popoola described Promasidorâ€™s gesture as the best way to support sports.
â€œThis is where hockey starts at the youth levelâ€¦ We have been given 1,000 hockey sticks, which have been distributed to 24 participating schools. These will go a long way in supporting the development of hockey. We are very grateful to Promasidor for doing this, especially when hockey is almost going into comatose,â€ Popoola said.
Indeed, Promasidor has demonstrated that it is committed to building a sound mind in a healthy body.