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19September2017

Government dominance in Nigerian sports could be responsible for the stunted performance


Football is perhaps the biggest unifying factor in Nigeria. Nigerians of all divide forget any form of leaning when it comes to taking position behind the national team in an outing. In addition, Nigeria may currently home one of the largest followers of the English Premier League and other European Leagues in the world. For a country of over 170m people, with robust youth demography and improving middle income, the passion for sports suggests a massive market for sports and sport related activities. The infrastructure and institutional arrangement to mine this market however remain suboptimal- usually muddled up in the graft-ridden government domination. The impact on the ranking of local sporting leagues and federations as well as individual actors in the global sports arena has therefore been on the decline with periodic spurs.

The establishment of the National Sports Commission (NSC) in 1963 marks the beginning of structured sports and sporting activities in Nigeria. The most significant achievement of that era was the qualification of Nigeria's Green Eagles for the Olympic Games held in Mexico in 1968. The respect for the nation in the sporting world grew with its record breaking performance at both USA 94 and Atlanta 96. Today, Nigerian sportsmen and women entrenched Nigeria's name firmly on global map as a great sporting nation. Although the country is yet to win a World Cup in football or lead international tourney like the Olympic, it has been known to possess great sportsmen with landmark achievement in leading international events and football leagues.

 

Nigerian sports on a slippery slope

The abysmal performance of the Super Eagles at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa marked a pathetic low in the much loved round leather game. It necessitated the President’s suspension of the participation of the country’s national teams in global football competitions for two years with the aim of using the period to re-focus the sport in Nigeria. Although the suspension was lifted about a week later following advice from FIFA, the step underscored the need to go back to the drawing board. It is comforting to note that some of the steps taken are currently yielding result. This was partly contributory to the emergence of the nation as the African champions at the last edition of African Cup of Nations in South Africa in 2013.

Across other games, Nigeria remained a leader in the African region and internationally until recently. Nigeria was the best country in athletics at 2011 All-African Games in Maputo, Mozambique with 38 medals (17 Golds, 11 Silvers and 10 Bronze medals). And in the previous three All- African Games, among which one was hosted on Nigerian soil, Nigeria maintained a position at the top of the ranking table.

 

Exporting sports revenue

Another issue that calls for worry is the very nascent state of Nigeria’s sports both in terms of development and income generation by federations and actors despite the strong passion for sports exhibited by its citizens. Nigerians currently spend huge amount of money to view international sporting events especially football of advanced economies. In other words, significant portion of the potential sports revenue are channelled towards patronage of sports outside Nigeria as it is with the import dependent nature of the entire economy. The followership that top football competitions like UEFA Champions League, English Premier League (EPL), Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie-A, get from Nigerians has no doubt contributed immensely to the $22 billion (N3.41 trillion) European football.

Despite the international respect and the parade of globally competitive athletes, the country has found it hard to domesticate sports earnings. This lacuna is rubbing off significantly on the fate of games and the sports people in the country. Local football leagues are near obscurity, riddled with fans gangsterism and corruption. Sport advertisements and sponsorship are highly unorganised and the revenue value chains dominated by high public sector involvement. The outcomes include the death of former great athletes due to poverty and low job creation and income potential of the sports sector of the economy. 

 

Giving life to Nigerian sports requires government handing off

Unlike in other countries where government participation is largely reduced to protecting rights, the role of government in Nigerian sporting industry ranges from regulations to participation within the value chain. All sports federations are owned and managed by the government through the National Sports Commission. And in most cases, appointments to the leadership of these federations have become largely political. Similar scenario characterises sports at state governments’ level where sports and related activities have become political tools. Governments own sports events rights, dictate and direct sports’ property values and flow, in addition to appropriating budgetary allocation for same events and properties. Consequently, competitive pricing of sports’ properties and rights becomes impracticable and unmarketable. This therefore may have been responsible for the unwieldy nature of the industry.

The foregoing indicates that not only is sports value chain in Nigeria sub-optimal largely as a result of government dominance, statistics on the activities of the industry is also almost non-existence. However, sports in Nigeria continue to attract passionate and frenetic followership. Sports also encapsulate and bring real life expression to brand attributes such as leadership, passion, energy and winning. Advances in technology and proliferation of media have meant that sports teams, events and major players are able to attract worldwide following. And given the passions of Nigerians for sports supported with the strong youth demography, the potential size of sports market in Nigeria is massive with implications for job creations and economic growth.

Government however need to reduce in its participation in the industry and focus on rights protection. The automatic force of the market is bound to move in if a competitive environment is restored for investors to begin to see the money. The glorious days of Nigerian sports can be restored with the invisible hand of demand and supply.

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