Nigeria’s poor showing at the Olympics need for new approach to sports funding (II)

“By Section 35 of the National Lottery Act, 2005, Sports development is lumped together with other causes. Some of these other causes already enjoy some form of specific funding. The National Lottery Act, 2005 should be amended to provide for substantial percentage of the lottery fund for sports development”.


Last week I highlighted the dismal performance of Nigeria at the last Olympics held in Brazil and how the country failed to build on the success recorded at the 1996 Olympics in which Nigeria recorded two gold medals. I contrasted this with the performance of the Great Britain Team which finished second overall, a marked improvement upon its performance at the 96 Olympics in which interestingly Nigeria was ranked higher than Great Britain. I attributed this to the obvious increment in sport funding in the United Kingdom, a factor which has not been replicated adequately in Nigeria.


Sports and development

I have no doubt that some may wonder whether given the present state of the economy, there should be any advocacy for increased attention of funding by the government towards sports in general. This same issue as to whether sports deserves any real attention in times of economic challenges is not new. Indeed, the phrase “No queremosgoles, queremos frijoles” (we do not want goals we want beans) was famously painted on the Mexico stadium during the world cup hosted by that country in 1986. Even in the weeks and days leading to the just concluded Olympics, Brazil witnessed several public protests aimed at drawing the attention of the world to the economic woes being encountered by the ordinary Brazilian on the street and how some saw the games as a misapplication of much needed public funds. People who take this view have always argued that sport events cannot make people forget problems such as underdevelopment, poverty, hunger and literacy. In a paper titled ‘The role of sport in economic development of African states’, Dr. Yakubu Musa Abeko and Moses Emmanuel Musa both of the Kaduna State College of Education stated the attitude as follows:

“The use of sports in Africa remains out-side the mainstream of thinking. While, sport and play arerepeatedly acknowledged as a human right, they are not always seen as a priority andhave even been called the ‘forgotten right’. Sport is seen as a by-product of development, not as an engine…”

However, in recent studies by scholars a link is now being firmly established between not only sport development and social wellbeing of the citizens but also between sports development and economic growth. In a publication titled ‘The Role of Sport as a Development Tool’, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) states as follows:

“Although it is an area that requires more attention and research, there is already plenty of evidence that sport can be used to spur economic development. The construction and rehabilitation of sports facilities and development of sport for entertainment create employment and marketing opportunities. The manufacturing of sports equipment also serves as a source of jobs. Furthermore, sports programs can be used as a training ground for a new work force, teaching skills that make young people more employable and productive.”

Given the above, I do not think it can now rightly be argued that government should continue to ignore the issue of sport funding and pretend to be helpless as our athletes continue to perform poorly at international meets.

National lottery and sports funding

The closest that Nigeria has to the British model of funding is to be found in the National Lottery Trust Fund which is created by Section 35 of the National Lottery Act 2005. The said section provides as follows:

“There is established a fund to be known as a national lottery trust fund (in the Act referred to as the trust fund into which shall be credited a percentage of the net proceeds of a national lottery as prescribed under section 24 of this Act).”

The application of the funds is as provided in Section 40 of the Act which also reads as follows:

“40 The proceeds of the Trust Fund established under section 35 of this Act shall be applied, from time to time –

(a) to fund projects approved by the President, on the recommendation of the Board of Trustees, to be in the interest of the Nigeria community and such projects shall include but not limited to projects for the advancement, upliftment and promotion of sports development, education, social services, public welfare and relief, and management of natural disasters in Nigeria;…”

What is clear from the above is that sport development is lumped together with other causes and objectives of importance in our national life. It is however my view that as some of these other causes already enjoy some form of specific funding particularly education which has its own special trust fund, sports should be given prominence amongst the others.

Furthermore, I do not think it helps that the percentage of the fund approved by the President and to be applied to these several causes is not specifically provided. For example, who or what determines whether sports development will get one or ten percent of the said funds or whether thirty percent should go to public welfare. I therefore advocate an amendment to the Act to provide for the specific percentage of the fund which should be allocated to sports. Furthermore, as is the case in England, the allocation to sports should be done by a body whether in existence now or to be created which shall be dedicated solely to the development of sports. This will enable such a body to use it expertise in determining which of several aspects of sports development the funds should be channeled towards. For example such a body would be better positioned to determine whether or what percentages of the funds should go towards building more infrastructures or what percentage should be paid to training of athletes and engagement of world-class coaches. The present situation as provided by the law in my estimation does not make this possible.

I therefore hope that the country will in the near future accord to sports development the attention it requires and begin to plan earnestly for sporting events. At the moment despite the performance of its athletes at the Brazil Olympics, UK Sports has already earmarked millions of pounds toward funding for the next Olympics. The time for us to start is now.

Aare Afe Babalola, ofr, con, san, ll.D.