Thursday, August 16, 2012
SPORTS AS INDUSTRY
By Biko Agozino
Following the embarrassing showing of Nigeria at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a Nigerian sports official proudly promised that the country will do better at the London Olympics by aiming for four medals or double the number of medals won in Beijing. Only four? Given that a Chinese official announced that the goal of his own country was to achieve 100 medals, I was surprised that the Nigerian official had such a low ambition for our own athletes. But after the London show of shamelessness by the Nigerian delegation, I stand corrected because that official knew something that I did not know about the lack of seriousness in the country regarding strategic preparedness for excellence in all fields.
The Guardian editorialized on August 16, 2012, and I opined as much on my Facebook page during the games, that the Sports Minister should do the honorable thing and resign before he is sacked for such a mediocre record after spending more than two billion naira to parade as one of the best dressed delegations. President Jonathan was reported also by The Guardian as calling for a retreat to plan the reorganization of sports in the country and to discuss the causes of the disastrous records of Nigeria in sporting contests recently. Here, I offer a few tips:
First of all, abolish the Ministry of Sports. The US, China, the UK, Russia and even proud Jamaica all have one thing in common – none of them has a Ministry of Sports - and yet they put Nigeria and many other big African countries to shame again and again at sporting contests. The staff of the Ministry of sports who have sporting experience should be redeployed after retraining to serve as coaches in educational institutions or they should be absorbed into other ministries.
Instead of a Ministry of Sports with huge estacodes for a waka-about Minister of Sports, channel more funding to schools for the development of sporting contests starting from the elementary and all the way to the university levels. Every elementary school should be equipped with a gym, basketball court, a tennis lawn, a beach volleyball sand pit, a football field with tracks; every town should have a swimming pool, every high school should have similar facilities and every university should be equipped with Olympic standard facilities in all sports.
Re-introduce the inter-house sporting competitions in schools, inter-school contests, university athletics contests with full scholarships for athletes to motivate them, then have the national leagues in all sports to keep them ready for international contests. Go beyond schools to award grants to private sporting clubs that will specialize in scouting talents and training them to get them ready to break world records. The clubs can enter into agreements with the athletes that they train for a small percentage of their earnings to be paid to the clubs to keep them sustainable.
I support the development of sports as an industry in which the child of poor parents with natural abilities and zero capital could be given the opportunity to pull the whole family out of poverty simply by playing the sport that he or she loves. Usain Bolt earns an estimated $20 million a year from running 9 seconds races and I am certain that if the talented youth in Nigeria have dedicated coaches in sprinting, many of them will give Bolt a run for his money in a very short time.
The same goes for the long distance runners from East Africa, the tennis players from Europe and North America, the equestrian riders, the swimmers, the boxers, the basketball players, the footballers and the volleyball stars. Even acrobatics do not require a lot of equipments, nor do high jump, long jump, pole vaulting, javelin throwing, discuss and short-putt. Cycling is a common skill in Nigeria but no club exists to train poor youth to take on the best in the world and win the Tour de France and feed their family forever. All it takes is systematic daily practice rather than the folly of cramming lessons into a few weeks before competitions or exams.
Federal, State and Local Government executives should include at least 10% provisions in their annual budgets to be awarded directly to the people not only for the development of sporting facilities and training programs but also as grants for private citizens or cooperatives to set up their own farms or businesses, conduct research, pay for school fees, produce movies or music or manufacture sporting goods that would support the sporting talents of our blessed youth. Corporate citizens should also come up with sponsorships for athletes who excel in their fields.
Athletics is an industry that is not easily dominated by employers of labor because the athletes own themselves in most cases and act as free agents in search of better opportunities. If we refuse to invest in the youth of Nigeria simply because there is no loot there waiting to be embezzled by kleptocrats, more and more of our youth will be seen donning the colors of other countries and kicking our butts at international contests as Igudala did with the US basketball team. Team spirit is also a skill to be learned in all fields and it is a transferable skill that will benefit other aspects of national life.
As The Guardian pointed out in its editorial, sporting events usually unite Nigerians more than any other projects. At a time that ineptitude at all levels is threatening to tear the country apart, excellence in sports could be a national security priority to be taken seriously at the level of individuals who would be empowered to excel in their own interest and also in the national interest. If kidnappers, pick-pockets, terrorist bombers, bribe-takers, armed robbers, fake pastors and unemployed youth generally knew that the waist is made of money, they will not be using theirs simply to dance bongo, as one Igbo singer put it.
A brother shared an internet link where Transparency Nigeria has already outlined a regional strategy for national mobilization – target swimming clubs at the Niger Delta youth who would out-dive the Chinese and out-swim the Americans any day if they knew that there is a career in what comes naturally to them; target horse riding and archery to the Northern youth who would win every race with their Durban skills; target sprinting at Eastern youth whose distant cousin is no other than Usain Bolt; target ball players at the Westerners; distance runners could come from the Northerners; wrestlers and boxers from the East, etc.
My suggestion is that any such targets should be tempered with pragmatism because no matter where a Nigerian comes from, with the proper training, he or she will excel in any sport. No ethnic discrimination should be tolerated in the selection of representatives given that racism could have denied the US and the UK lots of medal opportunities won by black athletes if they had insisted on the ideology of white superiority.
More than half the medals won by the US and the Chinese teams in London were won by women. Also, the closest Nigeria came to medaling in London was the female relay team that came fourth. This means that we should avoid gender discrimination in sports and all other aspects of national development.
Finally, we should note that developing sports without developing education is not an option, hence the proposal above for sports to be developed as an integral part of the educational curriculum, the way it is done in the US and China. We could mandate that every sporting practice should start with 30 minutes lessons in English and Mathematics on a daily basis. Thus, we will not only aim for 100 medals at Rio 2016 but also aim for 100% pass in Mathematics and English exams as opposed to 80% failure currently.
Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech.