Breakthrough in the Horizon, Sports Finally Get Attention at Nigerian Economic…

first_imgBy Kenneth EzagaToday in Abuja key players in the sports industry will take to the stage at the Nigerian Economic Summit to articulate the nationwide economic and socio-cultural impact of sports. Listening will be an audience comprising the leading lights in the nation’s public and private sectors.The local sports industry has struggled for attention and investments since the turn of the century, but recent developments suggest that things may be changing. Less than a fortnight ago the Nigerian football hierarchy also met with the national economic management team headed by the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. It is the first time there has been this level of engagement between the leading sports players and the nation’s top economic brains. Hopefully they find common ground as sports have an almost infinite power to add real gross value to the GDP of nations. The economic bounce at the weekend in Uyo when the Super Eagles clashed with Zambia to seal their 2018 World Cup place, tells a story that can be replicated every weekend in towns and cities across the country. There was increased business for airlines, hotels, food outlets, beverages, local transportation, media, banks and more.It has to be more than mere coincidence that the world’s leading economic giants are countries that also invest heavily in sports. Indeed, of the top seven finishers at the Rio Olympics in 2016 – the USA, England, China, Russia, Germany, Japan, and France, six were among the globe’s seven largest economies. Africa’s leading economy, South Africa, is also by far the biggest investor in sports on the continent.In fact, IEG, the global authority on sponsorship, says sports events hold the largest market share of global sponsorship dollars, accounting for a whopping 66%, followed by entertainment and attractions which accounts for a mere 11%.There are different reasons why progressive countries prioritise sports: one is the industry’s ability to create jobs across a broad spectrum of society, and the other is its power to unify nations locally while inspiring immense national pride on the international stage. The latter can be seen in the never-ending battles for superiority among leading nations like the United States, Russia, China, and others. Some dub this the ‘sports arms race’.Let’s quickly examine how a sports culture creates wealthier societies. First, by helping to unify a people sports aggregate their strengths and inspires passion to achieve much more together than in polarized societies like Nigeria. Secondly, sports help people lead healthier and more disciplined lifestyles. Healthy and disciplined people achieve more at school and at work.Ours is a country in dire need of a sustainable sports culture. It is surprising that sports does not have a place in the government’s 2017-2020 economic recovery and growth plan. Early post-independent Nigeria was different, we had a rich sports culture. This was reflected in government’s massive investments in the industry in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, the majority of the sports assets we have as a country today was built during that time, and at the time our facilities could compete with some of the best in the world. Back then our economy was also strong and it can be argued that domestic sports played its part as they were popular and generated a lot of economic activity.While most countries transformed their sports industries from the mid-1990s, ours lost critical support, leading to most of the facilities becoming rundown and outdated. Virtually all our stadiums, including the recently-built ones, are lacking the contemporary spectator-engagement facilities commonplace around the world today. In reality Nigeria is still some distance from handing sports entirely to the private sector, so government must continue to lead. Government leading the industry, however, is not entirely the same as government doling out free money to unprofessional crony administrators. There is a need for policies that encourage symbiotic public-private sector partnerships.In this regard we must applaud the recent bold efforts of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to shore up support for domestic sports. The minister’s call for local brands sponsoring foreign sports to pay a 30 per cent tax on their investment value for the development of the local alternative is a brilliant example of how government can, and should, lead. Some countries have even tighter controls over protecting their local industry. Only recently Chinese authorities sanctioned their football clubs paying lavish sums for foreign players to pay 100 per cent tax on any such contract, for the development of the local game.Some think that government should stop supporting sports financially under the mistaken notion that that is what happens in the developed nations. For all the financial success of English football, for instance, the British government still provides up to 30-40m pounds (N14-19b) to the FA to support the development of the local game every year. Hear the UK Sports Minister Tracey Crouch threaten the FA with the withdrawal of financial support in 2016 over slow reforms: “We’ve made it clear that all sports governing bodies have to reform their governance codes,” she told BBC’s Sportsweek. “The FA is not excluded from that and, if they don’t, they won’t get public funding. It’s as simple as that. I could not be more clear about how I want to see governing bodies perform. The FA gets between £30-£40 million of funding and that can go elsewhere.”To be fair the Nigerian government already invests a bit in sports, but there is a need to not only significantly increase the investment, but to professionalize this support. Government’s investment must be made more transparent, with clear targets set that should drive enterprise. The economic team must see this as key to its plans for a post-oil economy. There is no better way to engage our exploding population of poorly-educated, poorly-skilled and unemployed youth. From the grassroots through schools and the professional class, this can create direct jobs for many like athletes and sports competitors; coaches and scouts; umpires, referees, and other sports officials; entertainers and performers; gaming and sports book writers and runners; agents and business managers of artists, performers, and athletes.More people will be off the streets and working; earning wages and boosting purchasing power. To get some perspective on this, in 2012 when South Africa was thinking its football future, then CEO of the South African Football Association (SAFA) Robin Petersen showed how football alone engaged three million people. According to the Brand South Africa website, Petersen was at the time “looking at new ways to fund development, so that the 330 local football associations, the 20000 clubs and the three-million players in South Africa, as well as schools, will become a breeding ground for new talent.”That figure would probably be closer to 15 million players in Nigeria. Government would do well to mandate giant parastatals to invest in sports. Behemoths like the NNPC, CBN, NCC, NIMASA, NPA, FAAN, should be made to invest a billion or two in the industry annually. Many of these organizations waste billions in corporate gifts like diaries, calendars, branded items, etc. Put the money in sports and put more Nigerians to productive work. Major private firms, especially our conglomerates and banks, should also be encouraged to do same through tax rebates and protection from unscrupulous administrators.2019 is around the corner and this government can expected tough questions about how their programmes have directly affected the lives of the common man. Sports will be a great way to create a “feel good” factor while putting many to work in a short time. It will also be a great way to unite the country. 1n 1995 Nelson Mandela turned to sports to try and heal his country’s deep divisions. Now more than ever Nigeria needs to borrow a leaf from the great leader.*Ezaga is a marketing communications professional, promoter of the Nigerian Tennis Majors and a THISDAY on Saturday columnist.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegramlast_img

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