I write to you today Mr. President as a responsible Nigerian citizen concerned about the many problems threatening our survival as one unified, peaceful and progressive country. My aim is to interest your office in adopting sports as a tool to mitigate these problems.
Given our exploding population, high unemployment, rising crime rates, religious intolerance, an ever increasing number of out-of-school children, shrinking economic opportunities, and dangerous flare-ups of tribal, ethnic, and sectional biases, there is no better time for your government to dive headlong into sports than now.
According to the UN, “sport as a universal language can be a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding by bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponent and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence”.
There are five ways sports can help alleviate our problems: It will improve social integration; boost business and create numerous new jobs; lead to better infrastructural development; increase student numbers; and ensure a healthier and more productive population.
Your excellency everyone plays sports. We play sports at home, in our offices, in our neighbourhoods, in the villages and cities, in rich homes and poor ones, in schools, on the streets… everywhere. My guess is that even in the camps of Boko Haram, OPC, Arewa Youth, IPOB and others, they play some sport or the other. No other social phenomenon matches sport’s ability to engage people of diverse backgrounds in a positive way.
Investing heavily in domestic sports will take a lot of the poison out of the polity. Even as poor as the local industry is today, every week many Nigerians still sheathe their swords to compete peacefully across different sports. Southerners play in northern teams and versa, same with people of different tribes and religions. Indeed, when our national teams play, we all celebrate their victories and lament their defeats as one.
The world’s richest countries prioritise sports as a catalyst for economic development. Of particular note is how former sports minnows like China and India have recently gone bullish on sports, spending heavy and reaping great ROI. Sports business spans across multiple sectors like aviation, construction, transportation, hospitality, entertainment, media, health, food and beverage, legal, talent and business management, marketing, banking, etc.
With your government desperate to create millions of new jobs, sports offers a great platform for you to achieve this in the near term as there are already talents and manageable facilities in place. All that is needed is a little financial investment and favourable policies for investors.
Your excellency, when our domestic sports industry boomed in the 70s and 80s our country boasted some of the best sporting facilities in the world. Sports infrastructure should be seen as an integral part of urban planning for maximum impact on social development and business returns.
Our sports infrastructure today is far from adequate. However, success in our domestic sports would dramatically raise both public and private sector investments in restoring, developing and sustaining our sports infrastructure.
With over 10m children out of school in Nigeria today, sports can make a major difference. Research has proven that sport is a great way to attract and keep students in schools all over the world. It also helps our children become more socially competent, better problem solvers, more collaborative, fairer in competition and more receptive to rules and why they should be followed. These are values so desperately needed in Nigeria today that no investment can be too great.
Better health and productivity
Sports drive business in countries in two broad ways: elite professional sports and amateur sports for wellness. Both are large industries by themselves. With heightening consciousness for fitness, more people around the world are engaged in amateur sports. While ordinary folk may realise that only a select few can be champions, we all nonetheless are inspired to aim higher like our sports heroes. A major benefit of this is that fitter people are healthier and more productive. This would then lower public expenditure in health services.
Your excellency Nigeria appears the last nation of its significance in the world where sports is not taken seriously. Every global sports body wants to invest in our country, but they have nothing to work with. Corruption has the industry in a vice grip, while government policies need to be friendlier for investors and sponsors. The private sector can lead this. For now – in the absence of compelling domestic sports properties – Nigerians probably blow over N100b annually on foreign sports through TV rights payment, sports tourism, merchandising, sponsorship and marketing.
Finally sir, making domestic sports a winner will take more than a committee of your sports minister and a few former sportsmen. Almost every minister should be a key stakeholder. You name it; the ministers for Justice, Health, Aviation, Tourism, Transportation, Works and Housing, Finance, National Planning, Internal Affairs, Information, Youth and Culture, Communications, Labour and the CBN Governor should all play a major role.
Mr. President, if you want to look beyond agriculture to your next big winner, my recommendation is make a big move on sports today.
––Izaga writes from Lagos.