Nigeria is largely blessed with football talents. However harnessing such talents and bringing them to limelight remain a huge task.
In this interview with Chigozie Chukwuleta, a sports enthusiast and teacher, Prof Chidi Okoro believes that good partnership between football Academies and schools will help get the talents early on
Q.. What do you think is the clog in the wheels of recovery for Nigeria’s sports sector?
There are many reasons from where I sit. First, I doubt we appreciate the opportunity in sports ,when we do, we will go for it. Second. We tend to think it’s government’s responsibility, government has a role for sure but it shouldn’t be down to government alone. It’s a business.
And it takes a bit of rigor to set up and execute, we tend not to want to put in the hard work.
Q.. Sports especially football back in the days and today, what do you think went wrong?
Complicated really. We seem to have the ‘raw’ talent but don’t put in the effort to harness them. And as the saying goes , talent is not enough.Our public and private sector ‘leaders’ don’t seem to appreciate what we can accomplish by providing the environment for sports to thrive and become one our platforms for development. The issue is , we don’t have the capability to appreciate the importance of sports and also don’t have the desire to put in the work needed.
That said, private individuals should appreciate the business of sports and take it away from government.
I can’t think of any industry bigger than sports and looking at Nigeria’s demographics, with average age at 20 years or thereabouts, we are very well positioned.
Also, if public and private sector opinion-leaders can appreciate the fact that investment in sports can help take care of many of our societal ills eg. Poverty , Unemployment , crime etc.
Think about this, a Kelechi Iheanacho , Victor Osimien or so probably has a ‘better balance sheet’ than their state governments.
Q.. What marketing or administrative strategy do you think can bring back the glory?
First, let’s present sports for what it is. Let’s highlight the ‘business of and in sports’
Need clarity in terms of what we want out of it. What’s our aspiration with regards to sports, which sectors can we focus on how do we intend to participate and win. How do we build from ground up? Who is going to do what?
What initiatives should we build to enable us accomplish whatever vision we set out for?
How we do build systems that ensure a longer term views as well as the capability to execute set initiatives repeatedly?
Q.. How can we get our football fans back to the stadia
This is tricky. First, do we know why the fans stay away from our stadia? I suggest we don’t assume we know. Perhaps, some study to uncover that. Which fans? What are they watching?
Just off the top of my head, I think we can bring some creativity to it.
Turning this around will desire a great deal of thinking and investment.
Can we involve our music, comedy stars? Have them play at stadia during matches for instance. Perhaps , bring other forms of entertainment into our football stadia!
But need to get basics right. Clean up the venues and provide security.
Get the time in the day or night right.
Infuse other forms of entertainment into our sports and this whole thing can change.
Sponsorship will follow.
Q.. What do you think about the infusion of more developmental programs into the Nigerian football?
We have to face that some day. No shortcuts to success in this area.
Need to get the talent early on. Our academies can partner with schools a bit more strategically.
We can also think about Football academies that also provide basic primary/secondary education. I think Segun Odegbami MON had one sometime.
Partnership with foreign academies in this area can help. They bring experience and promise. I see what Bayern is doing in Enugu with some of you.
School sports from primary level should be promoted. Government and privates can partner to bring in individuals and Organisations who can organise those initiates year in year out.
Sports should be taken off our ‘politics value-chain’. It’s a business. It’s a profession and the professionals should be allowed to get on with it.
Q.. What will such infusion look like in the economic value chain of Nigeria?
Sports can contribute to fix our forex issues. If we can groom and ‘export’ 200+ football talent every year. Imagine the ROI for the individuals, their families and Nigeria . Look at what Brazil is doing.
Sports eg Football can be used as a platform to market Nigeria as a country. Think about what the likes of Jayjay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo , Rashidi Yekini have and are doing for Nigeria’s image.
Q.. What do think about the Bayern Munich Nigeria Youth Cup which within four years has taken 11 players across Europe playing and over 40 for training camps, academies, etc?
Fantastic initiative. I understand the first Nigerian to sign for Bayern Munich is on the cards. Great initiative. We should have 100 of such initiatives across states every year.
Our local clubs should also be engaging in such initiatives.
Kudos to you all and Bayern for keeping that going.