Sports development in Nigeria – The way forward

The recent performances of Nigerian athletes at the international sports arena leave much to be desired. However, even a single victory could have raised the spirits of the whole nation drastically. It is only when doing sports that the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba people belonging to different geographical entities come together as a nation  feel themselves as parts of one nation. –
It is sad and shameful that in a country inhabited by over 40 million agile and healthy youths, we have failed to make any major statement as far as sports is concerned. If countries like Honduras, Cuba and Jamaica, whose population is less than that of Lagos State, can win the Olympics why can’t Nigeria? Sports, undoubtedly, has always been a major unifying factor for Nigerians.
It is only in sports that Nigerians care less about federal character and quota system. The Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba people belonging to different geographical entities feel themselves parts of one nation. Sports enhances people’s unity, togetherness and cohesion greatly. Hence, there is the need for us all to treat it as seriously as it truly deserves. A lot of successes have been recorded in football in the last few years. However, they have unfortunately occurred to the detriment of other sports. Our performances at the international sports tournaments like the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and the All-Africa Games are usually woefully poor and not even worth writing about. Take a look at what is going on at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).
As the most populous black nation in the world we should have more impact at the international sports arena. The mere fact that we have not even been able to lead Africa in sports, let alone the whole world, means that we have always got our sports policies wrong.
Hence, there is the need for us to look inward and consider fresh approaches. Once the former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, received the “glorious” paralympians, some of whom made this country proud by winning medals at the international disability sports competition. During the meeting, he did lament that Nigeria had refused to make any reasonable improvement among the members of the comity of Nations in terms of sports.
Jonathan even suggested jokingly that if 36 Nigerian states, including Abuja, had picked one sports each and prepared thoroughly by engaging the right people, we would have always boasted of at least 37 medals at every major sports tournament. Imagine Nigeria winning 37 medals at the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games or even the All-Africa Games!
It may seem impossible, but, if the right things are done it is indeed realisable. If we can win medals at the Paralympics then why can’t we do the same at the Olympics and the others? What are we always doing right at the Paralympics that we have refused to do right at the other competitions? The time to look inwards and right our wrongs is now, considering the enormous role sports can play in terms of youth employment, reduction of youth restiveness, national cohesion and unity.
Unfortunately, the biannual National Sports Festival that is supposed to be a platform for discovering new athletes has been turned into a mere jamboree as poaching has become the order of the day. The host-to-win mentality has bastardised and reduced its quality as it is now an avenue for the sports commissioners milking huge sums of money from their state governments and enjoying themselves. No wonder, at the end of the day nothing worthy comes out of it.
Enough is enough, we need to go back to the drawing board and give sports development what it deserves. Unemployment and youth restiveness have been threatening peace and security of lives and properties in Nigeria, hence, there is the need for us to engage our youths through sports. We should restructure the National Sports Festival to enhance efficiency and bring it back to its original purpose of serving as a starting platform for new talents and fostering national unity. The National Sports Festival should be decentralised. The current arrangement when all the 36 states converge in a particular state to participate in numerous sporting events is a complete waste of time and a huge financial drain for the host state. The festival should be restructured in such a way that each state would only host one sporting event at a time. This would not only reduce the financial burden of a hosting state, but would also enhance participation.
For instance, if Kwara State was to host the swimming competition only, this would help not only to improve the quality of swimming facilities, but also to increase the number of participants. A lot of athletes would be able to take part in the event because the resources needed to organise that kind of event are much more meager compared to hosting all the competitions together.
We need to design a national sports calendar, therefore, so as to allow the states to prepare for the preferred games in time. This would ensure that the national sporting activities are an all-year-round, not biannual, event in Nigeria. If we wish to perform well at the international level, it is high time to take sports seriously.
Our sports festivals should be organised in the professional and amateur categories. This will not only ensure our professional sportsmen and women keep fit, but will also allow to discover and develop new talents. If this is done, poaching which has eaten deep into the fabrics of our national sporting events will be eliminated. Let’s do the right things so as to have the good results.
If countries like Honduras, Cuba and Jamaica, whose population is less than that of Lagos State, can win the Olympics why can’t Nigeria? We can engage our youths effectively in sports, reduce unemployment and youth restiveness, enhance national unity and cohesion, and rule the world through sports.

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Christian Voice