Fantastic mediocrity in sports promotion
There is hardly any doubt that the health of a nation is one of the indices of its greatness. A nation flaunts that health in the world of sports. It is not by accident that the great nations of the world – USA, China, Britain, Russia, Brazil etc – are also the dominant forces in diverse aspects of sporting activities.
By virtue of its population, Nigeria should ordinarily be prominent among such nations. Sadly, Nigeria is not a nation whose leaders approach sports with a coherent set of policies. Its isolated incidences of success can hardly be attributed to the success of state policy, but the daring of individuals. A nation that seeks to benefit from sports in all its ramifications must show greater seriousness than currently obtains in Nigeria.
Let’s talk football for an example. How many stadiums do we have in Nigeria and what deliberate attempts have we made to develop a league system that will take football to all corners of society? There was a time in the history of our nation when football was a lot more exciting than it currently is. There were football competitions between schools as well as between communities. By now, an all-encompassing national league system should have emerged. Successful football leagues exist in the great footballing nations of the world.
Football is a massive industry, a major source of income for governments and individuals. In a nation struggling to create jobs for its youths, a successful development of the industry has great advantages.
Of course, it is not only governments that promote the footballing industry. While they set the policies, local and foreign investors contribute to its development. In England, major football clubs are promoted by local shareholders and investors. The clubs have hundreds of thousands of people in their employment. It would have been difficult to contemplate the state of unemployment in England if its thousands of football clubs did not exist. There are other industries that feed on the sporting industry generally, the betting industry for instance, and contribute immensely to the employment of individuals as well as the economic health of the nation.
Tennis is another sport of global interest. Except for the exploits of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, the sport is misguidedly assumed to be elitist and biased to the white race. The assumption that only the rich nations of the world can excel in competitive tennis has been challenged by the poor Eastern European countries whose nationals have done brilliantly well in recent years. In their instance, governmental involvement did the magic.
Being more of an individual sport, it could be a lot more demanding for one to rise to the status of a global star in tennis. A deliberate policy to fish out and support talented individuals, be it by governments or wealthy sponsors, could see our youths flex muscles with their counterparts from other nations in tennis competitions around the world.
The sportsman or sportswoman belongs in a culture. It is a culture in which continuous training is the norm, even when there is no competition in sight. The food they eat, and their general life style, must reflect the demands of that culture. Sadly, Nigeria is an “emergency” nation, and those that represent us in diverse sporting events are recruited in emergency situations. Hence, our mediocre performances in global events.
Maybe a future Minister of Sports should know that there is more to his or her assignment than merely mediating over who should be football coach or captain! The Minister should be able to outline policies that promote our sporting lives to fantastic celebrations. A nation must have goals and objectives it seeks to achieve. Sports-related subjects can be taught in colleges and universities and kids helped to discover their talents early in life.
We shall all be beneficiaries – emotionally and financially – when Nigeria has developed and fully achieved its sporting potential. We would be celebrating our own rather than dissipate our emotions on the sporting institutions of foreign nations.
• Dr. Akinola wrote from Oxford, United Kingdom.