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Nigeria: Sports and economic advancement



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If there were still some lingering doubts regarding the near-infinite capacity of deploying the abundant sporting talents of youngsters of the developing World to catalyse economic development and emancipation of these underdeveloped societies especially in Africa, then the marketing events that characterised the recently ended Europe wide football transfer window, would have ended any other existing or pre-existing scepticism or doubts.

The rush for football talents by the big money spenders from the Saudi Arabian professional football industry for African footballing talents based in Western Europe amongst other stars, has attested to the immense possibilities that sports development holds the magic wand to the economic advancement of the world but more precisely the underdeveloped section of the World which the African continent is a significant part of. This is therefore to stress that sports is not a joke but a global brand rich in contents and revenues.

On September 8th, the foreign news agency Reuters reported that Saudi Pro League (SPL) clubs splashed out almost one billion dollars in the transfer window in a bid to boost the domestic competition by attracting some of the world’s leading players, according to analysis from Deloitte published on Friday.

The outlay of $957 million in the Saudi window, which closed on Sept. 7, exceeded the spending of four of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues with only England’s Premier League clubs splurging more on transfers than those in the Middle Eastern nation.
“This marks the first time since 2016 that another international league has outspent any of Europe’s ‘big five’ during a football transfer window…,” said Izzy Wray of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.

“European football continues to be the benchmark for the game globally, and the Saudi investment in the game will divert its focus towards the infrastructure, to elevate the level of Asian football.”
In an interview with Sky Sports published on Friday, SPL director of football Michael Emenalo, who spent seven years at Chelsea, said he hoped the league had made “positive headlines”.

“We look back with great satisfaction that we have put the league in a better place than it was previously,” he said.

“We have been able to attract and embed some of the best players in the world. We have got now, as part of the league, very good players.”

The media aforementioned reported that earlier this year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced a Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project involving league champions Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal, with a host of top players moving to the league.

The biggest Saudi transfer came from the country’s most successful club, Al-Hilal, who spent 90 million euros ($96.34 million) to bring in forward Neymar from Paris St Germain.
In addition to the Brazil star, Al-Hilal also spent big money on Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly and Ruben Neves.

SPL champions Al-Ittihad signed Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr brought in Otavio, Sadio Mane and Aymeric Laporte among others.

Al-Ahli, who returned to the Pro League following a season in the second division, also made a string of signings including Gabri Veiga, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy and Alain Saint-Maximin.

So, when the freshly minted minister of Sports Development in Nigeria Senator John Enoh Owan reported for duty following his epochal appointment by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and started articulating his position about the primary place of the private sector in the funding, commercialisation and evolution of the sports industry into a big business through partnerships, collaborations and supports, those key elements the minister elaborately espoused, made a lot of sense.

The youthful sports development minister has also began local and international consultations with key stakeholders in the Sports industry on ways, means and strategies for bringing about the actualisation of his programme of actions to make sports a meaningful, profitable and beneficial business for Nigerian talents which abound in virtually all spheres of modern sports both in the field and tracks.

Ironically, as the Nigerian Sports minister was busy with his constructive engagements with relevant partners in both the governmental, non-governmental private and public sectors on the aforementioned sports development agenda, it has just been reported that FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, and the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation’s (UNIDO), Gerd Müller, have met to look at ways to explore opportunities for African cotton-producing nations in the global football apparel market.

The world leaders’ meeting in New York marked the first time the two organisations would officially discuss issues affecting humanity. FIFA recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which, among other goals, sought to exploit football’s worldwide influence to unlock global economic growth potential, notably in the area of cotton production in Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Cote d’Ivoire, collectively known as the ‘Cotton Four (Plus)’ group.

These countries produce large quantities of high-quality cotton fibre, which is rated among the most sustainable in the world due to it being handpicked, rain-irrigated, and predominantly organically fertilised. However, over 90 per cent is exported as raw material, meaning those countries miss out on the additional revenue and job creation that could be generated by developing local cotton-to-textile value chains at national and regional levels.
UNIDO has been brought in to carry out a baseline assessment, which is due to be completed by April 2024, that will focus on the feasibility of producing apparel made from cotton and mixed fibers (i.e., cotton and synthetic combined), including the use of recycled polyester, in the five countries. The assessment will also look at how investment and technical know-how can be mobilised, supply and demand capacities, and the compatibility of existing legal and policy frameworks with the development of textile and apparel value chains in partner African countries. Once that is completed, UNIDO will use its findings as the basis for a fully-fledged project document in support of the joint-FIFA-WTO initiative.

Infantino told Muller at the meeting that “at FIFA, we recognise the work that UNIDO has been carrying and we will keep exploring opportunities to support the work of this important organisation and the next steps in our collaboration.”

In addition to establishing thriving and sustainable field-to-factory textile value chains in the five countries, thereby boosting local economies, while reducing transportation costs and environmental impact, the organisations envisage that FIFA-branded items, such as sportswear and gifts for FIFA staff, competitions, and the FIFA Football for Schools programme could be manufactured using cotton from the ‘Cotton Four (Plus)’ group.

This writer thinks that Nigeria stands to also benefit from the outcomes of this consultative dialogues but we must key in and actively become interested in the deliberate steps by these two global giants to use football as a point of duty to emancipate some of these grossly underdeveloped but immensely resource rich nations which are neighbouring Nigeria- a Country well endowed in both human and material resources but often classified as suffering from the political virus of RESOURCE CURSE.

Besides, sport is an important aspect of Nigerian culture, society and economy. It has the potential to foster national unity, promote healthy lifestyles, create employment opportunities, generate revenue and enhance the country’s image and reputation in the global arena. However, sport development in Nigeria faces many challenges, such as inadequate funding, poor infrastructure, lack of grassroots programmes, corruption, mismanagement, lack of professionalism and accountability, among others. These challenges have hindered the performance and participation of Nigerian athletes in various local and international competitions, as well as the development of the sport industry as a whole.

The current Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Owan Enoh, who was appointed in August 2023, has expressed his commitment to address these challenges and revitalize sport development in Nigeria. In his inaugural speech, he said: “I am aware of the enormous task ahead of me and the expectations of Nigerians from this ministry. I pledge to work with all stakeholders to ensure that we restore the glory of Nigerian sports and make it a viable sector that contributes to the socio-economic development of our nation.”

One of the key priorities of the minister is to increase the funding for sport development in Nigeria. He said: “We must return to proper funding for sports development. We cannot rely on government budget alone. We need to explore other sources of funding, such as private sector sponsorship, lottery funds, endowment funds, sports trust funds and so on.” He also said that he would ensure transparency and accountability in the management of funds and resources allocated to sport development.

Another priority of the minister is to improve the infrastructure and facilities for sport development in Nigeria. He said: “We need to upgrade and maintain our existing stadiums, sports halls, training centres and other facilities. We also need to build new ones where necessary. We need to provide modern equipment and technology for our athletes and coaches. We need to ensure that our facilities are accessible and affordable for all Nigerians.”

The minister also emphasized the importance of grassroots sport development in Nigeria. He said: “We need to revive and widen the scope of our grassroots programmes, such as schools sports, academicals sports, youth games, community sports and so on. We need to scout, identify and develop talents from an early age. We need to create a conducive environment for mass participation in sporting activities across all age groups, genders and abilities.”

The minister also acknowledged the role of youth in sport development in Nigeria. He said: “Youth are the future of our nation. They are also the backbone of our sport industry. We need to empower them with skills, knowledge and opportunities to excel in sport and life. We need to provide them with quality education, health care, mentorship and guidance. We need to protect them from exploitation, abuse and violence. We need to inspire them with positive role models and success stories.”

The minister also outlined some innovative ways to improve sport development in Nigeria. He said: “We need to leverage on the power of technology and digital media to enhance our sport industry. We need to create online platforms for information sharing, learning, networking and marketing. We need to use social media to engage with our fans, stakeholders and partners. We need to use data analytics to monitor and evaluate our performance and impact.”

He also said: “We need to diversify our sport portfolio and promote other sports besides football. We have talents and potentials in various sports, such as basketball, athletics, boxing, wrestling, taekwondo, swimming and so on. We need to develop these sports and make them more attractive and competitive. We need to create more opportunities for our athletes to participate in local and international events.”

He also said: “We need to strengthen our collaboration and partnership with other stakeholders in the sport industry, such as federations, associations, clubs, leagues, media, sponsors, investors, NGOs, academia and so on. We need to work together towards a common vision and goal for sport development in Nigeria. We need to share resources, expertise and best practices. We need to resolve conflicts and disputes amicably.”

In conclusion, sport development in Nigeria is a vital aspect of national development that requires urgent attention and action from all stakeholders. The current Minister of Sports Development has shown his vision and passion for revitalizing sport development in Nigeria. He has identified some key priorities and innovative ways to achieve them. However, he cannot do it alone. He needs the support and cooperation of everyone involved in the sport industry. Together, we can make Nigerian sports great again.

Nigeria’s sports development minister, Senator John Owan Enoh, has on Monday, September 18, departed the country for Spain where he joined industry experts at the World Football Summit (WFS), holding between today September 20-21, 2023.

The gathering of global football aficionados will take place in Seville, in the Andalusian region of Spain.

Enoh will be participating in the event to further open up Nigeria to better footballing and sporting opportunities, as well as collaborate with other countries in a bid to reposition Nigeria’s sports industry.

Last week, the Minister received Spanish Ambassador to Nigeria, Ignacio Sell, as both nations discussed bilateral collaboration.

Spain stands as one of the biggest footballing nations in the world, with the country winning the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and its elite league ranked amongst the top five in Europe.
“Nigeria’s football heritage is globally known. Our male and female teams, both senior and cadets have shown our heritage over the years in continental and global football showpiece events. We want to continue to build on that trajectory and further position our country to attain its full might in the round leather game.

“We want to develop football and sports in general, so that it becomes a huge ecosystem with economic value to the country,” Senator Enoh stated.

Recall that the World Football Summit is the biggest global platform dedicated to the football industry. Since 2016, WFS has successfully attracted attendees from across 17 events and has built a global community of more than 90,000 sports industry executives throughout its platforms.

Top names in the industry, including Gianni Infantino, Fatma Samoura, Ronaldo Nazario, Samuel Eto’o, Peter Moore, and Cindy Parlow-Cone have participated, showcasing the event’s significance in the global football landscape.

I think the minister has actually started well by meeting the right kind of people with the authority, global networks and the wherewithal to make Sports Development in Nigeria as a concrete springboard of economic advancement.

He has also promised to be a minister of Sports Development for all aspects of sports.

Importantly, catching Nigerian talents young and in their prime and harnessing those immense talents, is a fundamental task for this new dispensation in the sports development industry.

Ways, means and strategies for running sustainable sports from the grassroots to the national and global levels must be found in such a way that the only thing that matters is promoting our local sporting talents, creating opportunities for self actualisation, economic development, emancipation which inevitably obliges those sporting talents that may be exported to direct their financial assets in such a way that investments in Nigeria become their primary objective and goal so the Igbo principle of Aku ruo uno (bringing wealth back to Nigeria) can make tangible sense.

The minister must ensure that sporting federations are not continuously weaponised by factions whose stock in trade is to continuously engage in meaningless political infighting but rather these organising and Mobilisation entities, must be made up of former sports professionals who truly mean well for sports development and not their own POCKETS DEVELOPMENT.

Sports federations should be dominated by former professionals with unblemished records. Period!


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