Sports generally plays a major role in enhancing the prestige and status of a country at the international level. It also helps in the process of national integration, youth empowerment, job creation and foreign direct investments through professional sports.
In Nigeria, sports started as a recreational event used by the colonial masters as a past time and for entertainment. That continued even after independence before sports became professional in the country in the early 1960s.
With barely sixty-one years after independence, Nigeria has conceived and executed different sports development policies aimed at enhancing the development of the sector. Sports promotes youth empowerment and creation of millions of jobs for youths, patriotism and nationalism among the people.
At independence, sports was being run by private companies and individuals until 1963 when the then Military government created a Sports Ministry, which serves as supervisor in the formulation of sports policies and regulation for the country. Sports development at grassroots was handled by the State Sports Councils and schools’ sports left to be handled by the National Sports Commission through the Sports Federations.
The National Institute for Sports was established to provide the manpower training, research and other support needed for sports development in Nigeria.
Similarly, the Nigeria Olympics Committee was established in line with the Olympic Charter independent of Government control to coordinate and lead athletes to international events such as the Olympic Games and Common Wealth Games with the government providing the needed funds for participation in such sports activities.
The Nigerian Government has seen the successes recorded in sports and decided to establish the National Sports Commission to stage the first National Sports Festival in 1973.
The Government used the Festival for national rebirth and healing after the devastating civil war that engulfed the country from 1966-1970. The festival also served as a rallying point for youths, talents hunt and cultural integration as well as national unity amongst Nigerians.
Other policies were formulated especially between the 1980s and 1990s. These were aimed at driving the nation’s sports to the desired height. Over the years Nigeria’s sports policies have ensured government’s continued investments in sports.
Government policies in sports are aimed at sustaining existing mechanism of identifying young talents through National Youth Games, where young talents of primary school age are picked and nurtured to stardom. These games have in one way or the other helped in fostering friendship across different states of Nigeria.
The Government alone cannot promote and develop sports without the private sector involvement as obtain in other clime where talented athletes are adopted by corporate bodies, grooming and sponsoring them to competitions.
It is through the various sports policies that many of Nigerian sports talents were discovered. Some of these talents have helped in putting Nigeria’s name on the global sports map. These sports men include Nojeem Maiyegun, Dick Tigers, Funke Oshikoya, Chioma Ajunwa, Falilat Ogunkoya, Teslim Balogun, Segun Odegbami, Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Kanu Nwankwo, Samson Siasia amongst many others.
The present administration in Nigeria has set up dynamic sports policies aimed at achieving more laurels for the country by forming partnership with the private and public sectors to drive sector forward. This is in realization that sports has become a major revenue earner in developed countries where their Gross Domestic Product GDP is improved.
As Sports continues to open up more opportunities as a big global business, Nigeria is readjusting its policies to create the enabling environment for individuals and corporate organisations to invest more in sports.
The Government should give companies investing in sports tax incentives to encourage them to invest more in sports.
This policy is expected to create the desired synergy for partnership with the private sector players to host world major events as a way of contributing to the nation’s GDP as obtained in other countries.
Nigeria for the past 61 years, has given sports the attention it deserves to make it thrive not only as a major source of youth empowerment, diplomacy, foreign direct investments but also as a tool for peace and unity in Nigeria for the benefit of the world.