Nigerians, wake up, with Sports we can change the world!

Last week, I wrote about the fairytale story of Leicester City’s incredible season in the just concluded English Premier League!

Reactions and comments have continued to flood my blog.

Two weeks before that I had written about the 2030 World Cup, proposing that Nigeria leads a consortium of three or four neighbouring West African countries to bid for and possibly host the event and recalling how the region lost a similar opportunity in 2003 through shortsightedness.

I had proposed that a regional World Cup was the way Africa should go in order to host the first World Cup in Africa in 2010 to allow for more countries to benefit from the World Cup experience and share the burden of hosting the biggest and most lucrative single event in the world.

To date, there has only been one muted comment on the issue on my blog.

This is confirmation about general attitudes to sports matters in this environment. Matches and results interest people more than ambitious ideas that can impact humanity.

That may be understandable and acceptable for the ordinary folks, but at government and business levels the thinking must go beyond scores and trophies.

Take Nigeria, for example. There is a great desire for genuine social, economic and political reforms in the country.

Last week the federal government, through the Ministry of National Planning announced a list of 34 priority areas to focus attention on in order to achieve full implementation of its 2016 budget and development plan.

I scanned anxiously through the list to see the sectors and where sports fit in. Of course, sports are a part of a larger entertainment sector that includes the arts, culture, tourism, hospitality, film and music. The entire sector was not even mentioned!

My immediate reaction is that the present government is falling into the same old, warped and limited appreciation of the sector of previous governments after General Yakubu Gown in the mid-1970s.

A country with a 60% youth population that does not consider what captures the interest and imagination of the youths must be missing a big point. The youth and the entertainment sector go hand in hand!

Upon reading the report on government’s priority areas I called up a friend in the presidency and tried to point out to him how with the power of entertainment several of our national development objectives and goals can be facilitated, accelerated and achieved.

His response was that this is not the best time to moot such ideas to government, and that with the serious nature of the challenges confronting government (Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, Biafra agitators, crippling economy, kidnappings, fuel queues, and so on) this would be a hard sell at the present time!

That’s the whole point. The answers to some of life’s most complex issues are buried in the simple, sometimes seemingly foolish and often neglected things around us. Complex challenges don’t often require equally complex solutions.

Through the entertainment industry, carefully orchestrated and deployed, a great deal also can be achieved with a lot less, and with better, greater, deeper, long-lasting and measurable results, if only we can look beneath the surface of the challenges for the hidden treasures that lie there.

No government since the exit of Yakubu Gowon in the early to mid-1970s has understood and deployed the sector to drive ambitious national orientation and infrastructural development objectives and goals.

Yet look at some of the old evidence.
A large chunk of the low-cost residential housing and road developments in Lagos, particularly around Surulere, were built as part of Nigeria’s hosting of the 2nd All Africa Games in Lagos in 1972.

Festac Village, an architectural masterpiece of its time, a residential estate on the outskirts of Lagos, was built in record time to accommodate visiting participants at the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC, in 1977. That village, designed to accommodate 250,000 people for the festival, has now become, probably, the largest housing estate in Africa, home to close to 1 million Nigerians despite the neglect it has suffered for decades through lack of maintenance.

Since Gowon’s government, none other has seen and used the entertainment sector beyond the superficial level of recreation, celebration and uniting Nigerians during competitions.

The use of sports, including football, has been seriously limited by this basic lack of appreciation of their power to impact society beyond medals and trophies.

I am peeved for this lack of understanding and foresight. How could one of the fastest growing industries in the world today not be a priority of any developing economy or government?

It takes a special eye to see that every single one of the 34 listed priority areas of the Nigerian government is connected to the entertainment sector, directly or indirectly.

Last week I read a report that the sports boom in Asia has caught fire in China.

In 2008 China hosted the Beijing Olympic Games with resounding success. That success is now fueling new ambitions to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup as well as the Rugby World Cup even before that. President Xi Jinping has three wishes: to qualify, to host and to win the World Cup!

China has kick-started a buying spree of available football clubs in Europe, the best about-to-retire players and top coaches from around the world. It has set up the biggest soccer academy in the world and is in the process of establishing over 2000 secondary schools that combine football with education.

China has discovered the transformative power of that sector and is pumping in resources like mad (hundreds of billions of US Dollars) to catch up with the more advanced cultures of Europe and America. The country aims to grow its sports market to 5 trillion Yuan ($782 billion) by 2025, around a five-fold leap from its current size, and football will play a big part.

Nigeria must look and learn.

Last week, to my total surprise and excitement I read of plans by the USA, Canada and Mexico to come together to jointly bid to host the World Cup in 2030, an ambitious plan to use the World Cup to further integrate the peoples of the North American continent.

We in Nigeria had created this idea some 13 years ago, ahead of the rest of the world! America and the rest of the world are catching on to it now. That’s what I proposed two weeks ago and the Nigerian government does not consider it a priority, and even ordinary Nigerians are mute about it!

Let me reiterate again for emphasis.
The entertainment sector is like coal tar, dark and seemingly ugly, yet, ‘you can make anything from a salve to a star if only you know how from Black coal tar’! You can use the entertainment industry to drive most national causes and developmental projects if only you know how.

Let Africa wake up from its slumber and learn to appreciate its cheapest and most available resource, and use it to achieve serious goals and objectives!

The entertainment industry, of which sport (and football in particular) is an integral part, is a great elixir and weapon of the 21st Century to achieve great things in national and regional orientation, integration, urban renewal, national infrastructural development, employment generation, education, youth empowerment and engagements, and so on and so forth.

Nigeria, lets shine our eyes!

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