January 8, 2021

Re-inventing Nigeria’s lost glory in sports (1)

NIGERIA witnessed a spontaneous growth in sports in her early history of nationhood. Indeed, even before independence, competing under the British flag, the Union Jack, Nigerian athletes won laurels for the country.

The likes of Hogan Kid Bassey (World Featherweight Boxing champion in 1957), and Richard Iheatu, also known as Dick Tiger (World Middleweight Boxing Champion in 1958), were among the pathfinders in Nigeria’s early flight to global reckoning in sports.

In the amateur ranks, Nojeem Mayegun won Nigeria’s first Olympic medal (a bronze in the middleweight class at the Tokyo Olympics).

The likes of Emmanuel Ifeajuna set an Empire and Commonwealth Games record in the High Jump event with his leap of 6ft.8 inches (2.03m). He was the first Black man to win gold.

Nigeria’s sporting culture was built on the structures left behind by the colonial masters.

Sport was originally conceptualised as a recreational pastime which was private participation-driven. Government had very little to do with organised sports. Individual sports clubs were formed by non-governmental groups while membership was voluntary.

Government’s primary concern was to create the necessary environment for sports to fester, in line with the axiom that a healthy people make a healthy nation and, by extension, a healthy work force for the country.

In that wise, government built public parks, stadia and other facilities where sportsmen and women could train and keep fit.

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As an integral aspect of a holistic approach to a child’s development, government also initiated an educational system which tied a child’s educational growth with his or her development in sports.

Schools were compelled to possess standard play grounds, and other facilities that could enhance speedy development of children in sports alongside their education.

Sports instills in the child the spirit of competitiveness, sportsmanship, discipline, sincerity, ethics and other fine tenets necessary for good leadership and peaceful co-existence within the society.

Beyond that, sports have become a multi-billion-dollar global industry. The question is how can Nigeria tap from the fastest growing industry in the world.

Blessed with a glut of natural talents in every aspect of sports, Nigeria can take her rightful place among the comity of sporting nations if the general orientation and existing structural defects were perfected.

For instance, in an age where governments all over the world are allowing sports to grow independently, Nigerian government is instead tightening its grip on sports, with an overbearing ministry that seems to have lost direction.

The call for the return of the National Sports Commission has been very loud. Originally established as National Sports Council in 1962 as a parastatal under the Ministry of Labour, it was meant to regulate and coordinate sports in the country.

Government’s role in sports should be peripheral.

Vanguard News Nigeria