One of the stars of the long jump event of the Eko 2012 National Sports Festival held in Lagos. The inability of the government to organize another edition of the competition since 2012 mirrors the neglect of the sector, which has the potential to drive the national economy. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI
Last Thursday night was very historic in the annals of sports development in Nigeria. A television programme set out on an ambitious adventure to do what has never been done before – use a media platform to drive an agenda for the development of sports in Nigeria.
The programme titled, The Sports Parliament, debuted on NTA, the country’s national television station, the largest network in Africa with a staggering viewership of some 60 million Nigerians in all the nooks and crannies of Africa’s most populous country.
I am one of the 12 parliamentarians selected to embark on this journey into uncharted Nigerian territory. Before last Thursday night, the NTA and sports had been afflicted by the same common disease – that of declining influence and impact in society.
Very limited attention was being paid to them in recent times and the evidence of this lay all over the country in the carcasses of what used to be national edifices and institutions that now litter their environments.
Sports are worse hit. The dwindling number of the country’s haul of medals and trophies at international competitions in recent years is clear evidence.
A few months ago, the Federal Ministry of National Planning released a list of 41 priority areas for development by the present government in power. Sports were conspicuously absent in that list!
To the consternation of those that appreciate sports beyond the superficiality of winning medals and trophies, and see the bigger picture as a potential major contributor and catalyst for the economic, social and political well-being of the country, the silence from all stakeholders in the sports sector since that announcement has been deafening!
Nigerians are crazy about some of their sports, particularly football, and everyone mouths them as powerful tools for national unity yet nothing concrete is ever done to convert this enormous potential to reality.
The challenge is that ignorance thrives in the corridors of power about how to go about this conversion. The high turnover of administrators with the original vision for sports development in the 1990s exacerbated the situation to the extent that a new clarion call for government to completely hands off sports development now fills the already fouled air. It is an error precipitated by lack of information.
Government has a statutory and major role to play in sports development, period! But this role must be well articulated and clearly defined. The same thing goes for the private sector, parents, schools, communities, federations, and so on!
There is, therefore, a compelling need to create information ‘bank’ that government and the Nigerian people can tap into for authentic and authoritative information showing how to navigate through the minefield that Nigerian sports have become.
Hopefully, through decent and honest conversation by experienced people with integrity provoking discussions, interrogating and articulating issues, providing evidence, proposing the best way forward and, finally, putting all these across as entertainment on television to the general public, the needed attitudinal and physical change shall come.
It makes sense, therefore, what The Sports Parliament has set out to do – to identify and deploy the platform, assemble the best brains available, provoke conversations on critical issues, suggest practical solutions, and ‘leave the rest to God’ as Nigerians usually would say when they come to the end of their tether.
The next question is: What happens in other climes?
The answer is that the combination of television and sports, riding on the back of each other to achieve both mutual and individual goals and objectives, is unbeatable.
The stories of Canal Plus in France, Sky sports in the United Kingdom and even DSTV in Africa, all of them now major television giants with relatively humble beginnings, present clear testimony of the power of sports to drive television, and vice versa. Sports, produced, packaged and presented well, provided irresistible content for each of the television networks making them instant successes.
Sport is drama, entertainment, education and information rolled into one, tools that can be effectively deployed to drive noble causes, increase viewership numbers and ignite an economic boom.
Sports and television are like tea and sugar; they go together hand in hand like Siamese twins. They also serve as oxygen for each other. So, that’s what The Sports Parliament wants to tap into – a platform where television will be used to drive an agenda for change of attitude to sports in Nigeria whilst providing excellent entertainment content and hopefully driving human traffic in viewership to itself with the possibility of increase in revenue.
The Sports Parliament will gather information to be provided by a pool of tried and tested professionals in the various sections of the sports industry to guide government, the public and all major stakeholders in sports on how best to exploit the power of sports to impact society with everyone’s role in the process clearly defined.
With sports we can engage the teeming, restless but talented Nigerian youths, breed a healthy new population, create jobs in a global industry driven by passion, catalyse and accelerate national infrastructural development, build great international relationships with other countries, take sports back to schools and restore the completeness in the education of children through the combination of sports and academics, instill a disciplined lifestyle, good conduct, leadership qualities and high morals in the youths, and so on and so forth.
That these can be achieved through a simple project involving weekly interesting conversations on television (and other incorporated social media platforms) makes the entire idea so incredibly exciting it is almost too good to be true! But so are the foolish things that the universe uses to confound the wise!
Late Nelson Mandela was never flippant with words. On the eve of the 2010 World Cup hosted by his country, South Africa, the great sage proclaimed that sport has the power to change the world.
The Sports Parliament intends to take up the challenge and use that same power, add to it the power of television and positively and massively impact Nigeria.
Watch out every Thursday night!