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Developing sports as business

The new sports policy unveiled by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on November 2, 2022, is in line with the yearning of Nigerians who have…

The new sports policy unveiled by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on November 2, 2022, is in line with the yearning of Nigerians who have advocated a change from the fire-brigade, haphazard and apparently uncoordinated approach to sports in the country. The fact that Nigeria has potential to excel in sport, locally and globally, is evident in the occasional flash of brilliance from individual athletes or sporting teams when engaged in competitions. However, it is apparent that this unsustained brilliance is the consequence of poor policy frameworks and a lack of seriousness in the implementation of existing policies.

The thrust of the new policy is the involvement of the private sector in the management of the country’s sport through various incentives,  which include the following: “tax exemption and rebate for a period of five years for investors in the value chain of sports; land provision and waiver for certain fees on lands meant for sports;  single digit loan interest rates for corporate organisations and private individuals investing in the sports value chain; and independent government grants through the establishment of an Independent Athletes Welfare Fund (AWF) from which athletes representing the country can draw support for education and training.”

Others include “application of the Renovate Operate Transfer (ROT), Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), Integrated National Financial Framework (INFF), Nigeria Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP) or any other innovative PPP financing model for the provision and rehabilitation of sports facilities in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; and full operationalisation and enforcement of the sports code of governance.”

No doubt, this policy is a great initiative, if it is properly executed, as the bane of most excellent policies in the country has been the lack of commitment to their implementation. Until this recent policy document was released, the near comprehensive sports policy in Nigeria was issued in 1989 under former President Ibrahim Babangida.

The specific objectives of the policy were as follows: “To provide opportunities for persons with talents to excel in their chosen sports as a means of self-fulfillment and the promotion of national image; to continue to invest in amateur sports and take all necessary steps to promote same; to promote professionalism and self-reliance in sports as a means of achieving perfection in competitive sports nationally and internationally; to utilise sports as an economic tool in providing and improving the economic well-being of the people; and to utilise sports as a means of solving as much as possible, some of the social ills of the nation like unemployment and in combating other anti-social behaviour in the society.”

Not many of these objectives have been achieved in the last 33 years, in spite of all investments by government.

The current policy is, however, a positive addition to the 1989 policy, and if pursued with tenacity, the lofty objectives of handling sports as business will be achieved.

When we begin to treat sports as a business, there is no doubt that there will be significant improvement in the sector.  It is on record that Nigerian athletes made an impact at the August Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom, as a result of a novel approach to the sponsorship of our athletes. The ‘Adopt an Athlete’ strategy initiated by Sports and Youth Minister Sunday Dare is largely responsible for the sterling performances of Tobi Amusan and other athletes who did Nigeria proud at the competition.

As the new policy is being implemented, it will be great if deliberate efforts are made to ensure that the seven big sports, among them football, basketball, boxing and tennis, benefit from it.

In spite of the fact that involving the private sector in sports is good, we call on the government to play its own part effectively. First, government must not abdicate its responsibility of supporting amateur sports persons, because profit-making private concerns may not show much interest in identifying new talents. Rather, they would stake their funds on thriving talents.

Secondly, government must invest in the provision of basic infrastructure for sports, and at various levels. Local, state and federal governments must invest in sports at primary and secondary education levels; they should also provide stadia and sporting equipment where young persons could develop their talents. Importantly, government must tackle corruption in sports in Nigeria.

Though the private sector is being enticed to join hands in developing the sector, corrupt civil servants could frustrate the good initiative. It is time to make the sporting potential of young Nigerians a reality.

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