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Nigerian sports drifting over lack of policy

In most developed countries where sports are serious business, there are usually clearly defined policies for the sector to be properly managed for optimal performance…

In most developed countries where sports are serious business, there are usually clearly defined policies for the sector to be properly managed for optimal performance and dividends. Therefore, those charged with the responsibility of administering sports are technocrats who operate based on laid down guidelines.

The same can’t be said of developing or third world countries where sports are still regarded as recreation. The business side of the sector is hardly explored as it is mostly administered haphazardly by people who are not trained in sports administration. Consequently, they lead by the nose with dire consequences.

As a third world country, Nigeria is faced with the same unfortunate situation that has refused to change, as concerted efforts made in the past to professionalise sports administration in the country have ended like water splashed on the back of a duck.

This unfortunate development is undoubtedly responsible for the failure of Nigeria to properly harness talents that abound in the country. In recent times, Nigeria has witnessed an unfortunate exodus of some of her immensely talented and budding athletes who chose to take up other nationalities. This is partly responsible for the sharp decline in the country’s sporting fortunes.

These young athletes usually embark on the search for greener pastures, not because they hate their country of birth, but they are convinced beyond all reasonable doubts that their potentials would not be harnessed maximally if they stayed back. In this case, the sport most affected is athletics.

What Nigeria has continued to lose due to the absence of well defined sports policies is gained by other countries like the USA, Qatar, United Arab Emirate and a host of others, who have recognised and subsequently developed sports into a booming business.

To develop sports and arrest avoidable exodus of athletes, most stakeholders have continued to clamour for a functional document that would put Nigerian sports on a prosperous path. This is nothing new because immediately Nigeria gained independence from British rule, those entrusted with sports administration began to strive towards a workable policy.

Going down memory lane, it would be recalled that the involvement of the government in sports began in 1963 with the establishment of the defunct National Sports Council (NSC), with the late Pa Abraham Ordia as secretary. It was domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Labour.

In 1971, the National Sports Council was replaced by the National Sports Commission with the promulgation of Decree 34. And in 1975, the then military administration upgraded the NSC to a ministerial status and appointed a minister of cabinet rank to oversee the affairs of the ministry.

However, in 1991, the National Sports Commission (NSC) re-emerged via another promulgation when the body became a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development and was saddled with the responsibility of sports administration in the country.

After four years, the NSC was again scrapped and the Ministry of Sports and Social Development took over its function. In another twist in 2007, the Ministry of Sports and Social Development was scrapped again and the NSC brought back to handle sports development.

The last of the back and forth between the sports ministry and the NSC happened in 2016 when the then minister of sports, Solomon Dalung, a lawyer, against popular wishes, scrapped the National Sports Commission.

The resultant effect was said to be the dismal performance of Team Nigeria at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Nigeria managed to win only one bronze medal in football. Expectedly, the dismal outing of Nigeria at the Rio Olympics elicited fierce condemnation of the decision of Dalung to do away with the NSC.

In response, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari hurriedly convened a sports summit, where technocrats gathered to discuss the way forward for sports in Nigeria. It was not the first of such effort, as it would be recalled that in 2009, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua’s administration formulated a national sports policy with the core objective of using achievements in sports to boost the country’s image in the comity of nations and development of talents.

But the effort by that administration failed to yield the desired results. It is also disturbing to note that the report, which was submitted to the government of President Buhari at the end of the 2016 Sports Summit is gathering dust on government shelves.

Therefore, it is apt to acknowledge that there have been efforts to give direction to sports in the country but the lack of political will to follow up on formulated policies with decisive actions has remained the bane of sports development in the country.

The unanimous conclusion among sports stakeholders in Nigeria is that the sector can witness accelerated growth if the National Sports Commission is restored and entrusted in the hands of professionals. Those who hold such strong view have maintained that allowing a minister who is a political appointee to administer sports is tantamount to fetching water with a basket.

A former Nigerian international and ace sports journalist, Chief Segun Odegbami, who has been a member of so many sports summits, in one of his numerous articles wrote, “The greatest setback of the sports sector is the appointment of those that know little or nothing about the sector, that are not products of the sector, that do not have the history, vision and sensibilities of the sector to head it.”

In the same vein, an octogenarian and patron of the Nigeria Olympics Committee, Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima, believes strongly that even as sports have continued to play its role of uniting the country, successive governments have failed to give the sector its due.

Speaking to Trust Sports, the executive chairman of the Kano Sports Commission maintained that Nigeria was failing to make the maximum use of the potential in sports because the country is yet to produce a workable blueprint for sports development.

“We must be mindful of the role sports have played in keeping us together. We must thank God that we are still one, and a huge portion of the credit goes to sports. As a unifying factor, sports have saved the country from precarious situations created by other sectors like politics.

“Even as we can beat our chest and celebrate, we cannot pretend that all is well with this important sector. We have not been able to live up to our potential in sports because of lack of clear vision and focus. In addition, different segments of sports are enveloped in one crisis or another,” he noted.

On his part, a sports administrator and former member of the House of Representatives, Lumumba Dah Adeh, said for the country to make progress in sports, there must be well articulated policies that would serve as a roadmap for those charged with the administration of the sector.

He reiterated that in countries where sports is seen and treated as business, there are usually huge financial gains for the government and individuals involved in the sector.

Lumumba noted that past efforts to provide legal backing for sports were not successful because those who benefit from the present arrangement did not see the need to do things differently.

“We all know what is right, but not many people are willing to make sports the business that it should be. It is sad that despite its huge potential, the sector in Nigeria is still seen as mere recreation.

“I keep saying that for us to get out of the doldrums, sports must be given the legal framework to operate and thrive as business,” Lumumba said.

It is against this background that most stakeholders have continued to argue that immediate restoration of the scrapped National Sports Commission would go a long way in addressing the problems of sports development.

Unfortunately, after the Senate Committee on Sports in 2017 conducted a public hearing on the bill for an act to establish the National Sports Commission and recommended that the Senate should give a favourable consideration to the important b  ill and equally give it an expeditious passage, nothing happened until a few days ago.

The Senate, on December 7 okayed the establishment of the National Sports Commission as recommended by its Committee on Sports. It is left to be seen how soon the all-important commission would return.

While waiting for the return of the NSC, the incumbent Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, had come up with what he called Sports Industry Policy. He said the core objective of the policy was to move sports away from recreation to serious business.

“In the last 20 months, we have devoted our time largely to turning sports into an industry. Sports have been a mere recreation in our country. When you look at all successful nations that have successful sports development, it is because they run the sector as business.

“In another few days, we should be able to deliver for this country its first ever Sports Industry Policy. The cardinal pillars of that policy are infrastructure, incentive and investment.”

Dare, therefore, called on state governments to identify specialised areas they could key into in the policy, which he assured would soon be ready.

For now, the sports fraternity in Nigeria is waiting eagerly for the return of the NSC for a possible resurgence in Nigerian sports and return of the lost sporting glories.

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