During my childhood and teenage years, my younger brothers and I were very fond of soccer. From Barnawa Housing Estate, Kaduna to Airport Road, Kano and Okumagba Estate, Warri where we lived, soccer was the most popular and the most enjoyable game amongst our peers. My younger brother was a talented goalkeeper, and I was good with my left foot. Like most Nigerian kids, no one taught us how to play soccer. We watched other people play, we understood the rules and then we started playing.
But sadly, our parents – much like other parents – would have none of it. I still remember vividly how the sight of the nanny, walking towards the neighborhood field, not only meant it was time to go home; we also knew we were in trouble. This was the case for many other kids, too.
I am not certain my parents ever got to know how good my brother was as a goalkeeper, or how good I was with my left foot. They didn’t appreciate the importance of sporting activities in building social cohesion in communities; nor did they know the role of sport in social and economic development. To compound our issues, there were no government policies or advocacies encouraging parents to allow their kids to participate in sports.
Decades later, I now live in Canada, and I have seen a completely different worldview. I practically struggle to get my son enrolled into the junior soccer league in our neighbourhood. Despite the fact that the enrolment is not cheap, it is still so hard to get a spot for your child. During the summer months, most neighbourhood fields are filled with kids and their parents who come to drop them off and watch them play. It is well organised. Hockey, which is Canada’s most popular game, is even more organised and sophisticated, costing parents thousands of dollars just to kit their kids.
The fact is, different parents go through the pains for different reasons. But no matter what those reasons are, government support and community volunteering create the enabling environment. Overall, the impact on communities and the economy is evidently significant.
Sport can be a tool for economic development. It can also support the development of social skills and future job skills. According to the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) – an inter-governmental policy initiative hosted by the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) between 2009-2015 – sport has the potential to promote social integration, gender equality, social capital development, peace building and conflict prevention, amongst other benefits.
There is a lot Nigeria can benefit from sporting activities. Unfortunately, the country has a history of checkered commitment to sports. Our sport policies are tied to participations in regional and global competitions. To better harness the country’s sporting potential and produce better outcomes in sports, we will need a paradigm shift in policy. A recommended policy must have a bottom-up approach, involving long-term planning, and integrating grassroot communities.
Apart from enriching the social and cultural fabrics of communities, developing the nation’s sports industry can boost Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings by attracting foreign investors and tourists. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the North American sports industry generated $60.5 billion in 2014, and is expected to reach $73.5 billion by 2019. Sources of revenue include merchandising, sponsorship, media rights and gate receipts, which is the biggest source of revenue. But revenue derived from media rights deals is projected to surpass gate revenues. The industry also provides employment in different areas ranging from the athletes to coaches, scouts, umpires, referees, commentators, amongst others.
In Europe, the data is even more compelling. The sports industry’s contribution to the European economy is enormous. The figures show that sports accounts for 1.76% – or about 175 billion Euros – of European Gross Value Added (which is Gross Domestic Product + subsidies – (direct, sales) taxes), according to Sportyjob, the online job market for sport jobs in Europe. This means the industry contributes more to the European economy than agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined. If other sectors that benefit from sports are included, the share of the continent’s sports GVA jumps to 2.98% or 300 billion Euros.
In terms of jobs, the sports labour market accounts for 2.12% of the total employment in Europe, equivalent to about 4.5 million sports-related jobs. The largest number of sports-related jobs is in Germany, estimated at 1.5 million jobs. Sports and sport-related activities are estimated to supply over 400,000 full-time jobs in England, or 2.3% of the country’s jobs market.
Canadian sports business researcher, Norm O’Reilly, led other researchers in a study of hockey, Canada’s favourite game. The research, “Ice Hockey in Canada, 2015 Impact Study,” finds that hockey generates over $11 billion annually with more than $1 billion in tourism revenue. The study also finds that ice hockey rinks are part of the landscape in Canada with nearly 2,500 rinks across the country.
As a country, Nigeria needs to begin to tap into the enormous opportunities that sports present. And as a sport-loving people and country, we have a lot to gain if the industry is properly developed. Nigerians spend a lot of money acquiring foreign club jerseys and souvenirs. A lot is also spent on cable TV subscriptions to watch sporting activities in Europe and America. Part of these funds accrue to those countries, meaning Nigerians are contributing to growing those economies.
Reflecting again on my teenage years, my siblings and I were great supporters of Nigerian football clubs. While I was a fan of IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, my younger brother was an avid fan of New Nigerian Bank Football Club of Benin City. Although we never had the opportunity to watch our favourite teams live, we never missed their games on TV. Local football clubs and other sporting activities in the country can still generate such followership – which the industry’s entrepreneurs can leverage – with the enabling policies.
A grassroots approach to sports development is key to unleashing the potential of the industry. Just like hokey is the dominant sport in Canada, Nigerians are passionate about football. Therefore, football pitches should be part of our landscape. Developing the infrastructure for the industry to thrive becomes a crucial enabling factor. Today, I can convince my friends to go with me to the shopping mall but I cannot convince them to go the stadium to watch a game of soccer because many of the facilities are shabby and they are not properly secured. There is no reason every community should not boast of a fully-equipped stadium.
Like the current made-in-Nigeria campaign geared towards promoting domestic cottage industries and patronage of locally-produced goods, local football clubs should be encouraged and supported to build their proudly Nigerian brands. The government should begin to understand that aside from the economic impact from promoting such a policy, sport can also be a tool for fostering peace and security. A country bedeviled by unemployment and youth restiveness urgently needs a well-oiled sport policy to reduce unemployment as well as curb the agitations.
The administration of sports also requires trained professionals. The government can partner with tertiary institutions to introduce academic programmes in sports management and marketing. Undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in sports prepare individuals to work professionally in coaching, administration, management, as well as know the business of sports.
As a matter of fact, the president and state governors can begin to evaluate the performances of their sports ministries by the amount of successful and meaningful sporting events they have launched, and how many Nigerians they have empowered. Once such a policy becomes operational, we will begin to see some impact. This will also slow down the ‘muscle drain,’ which has been deemed comparable to brain drain. Athletes leave our country mostly due to lack of opportunities and facilities to develop themselves. Anthony Joshua, who recently defeated Wladimir Klitschko in a heavyweight boxing title fight wanted to represent Nigeria in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but he was rejected. He went on to win a gold medal for Britain in 2012. Today, he is world heavyweight champion.
As a country, we need to start recognizing that sport is not just about partaking in competitions. It benefits the individual and the society at large. When we recognize this fact, and integrate sport into the fabric of our society, it will have a significant impact on the national economy and improve the image of the country in the international community. Therefore, sport and allied activities need to be considered as part of the economic diversification strategy of the Nigerian government.