Rio 2016: Dalung, Sports Is Not About Games, But Building An Industry, By Olukayode Thomas

Nigeria’s season of catastrophe in sports continues with the failure at Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Worried by the development, Sports Minister Solomon Dalung promised that preparations for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will commence immediately but Olukayode Thomas writes that serious nations don’t plan for games and championships, they build sports industries.

It is only neophytes in elite athletes’ development that will blame minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, for our poor performance at the just concluded Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but it is also clowns that will give him credit for the Golden Bronze we won.

Granted, Dalung deserves some knocks for the shenanigans that characterised our preparations. High on the list was his indifference to the travel plans of the U-23 football team, and which was poorly managed by the NFF, an agency under his watch, leading to international embarrassment for Nigeria. Till date, he has neither queried nor sanctioned any of the officials of the football house for graft or for disgracing Nigeria.

While Dalung may be forgiven for the above, given that he is a novice in sports, yet history will be harsh on him if he does not lay a solid foundation for the emergence of a vibrant sports industry in Nigeria that can rival those of Europe, America, Asia and Latin America in the near future.

Dalung’s immediate reaction to our failure, probably not well thought out, was to announce the commencement of preparations for Tokyo 2020 immediately. This indicates that he has not learnt from the mistakes of past sports ministers and top sports administration.

In my two decades of sports journalism, and even before I joined the pen pushing profession ‘we shall commence preparation for the next games immediately’ has been the most abused slogan in Nigerian sports. From Jim Nwobodo and ministers that came after him to Amos Adamu and sports administrators after him, it has always been the same slogan.

But Dalung needs to be told in clear terms that serious nations don’t prepare for games and championships. What they do is create an enabling environment for children from age four to the elderly to participate in sports, leading to a sports culture and ultimately a sports industry. Let facts speak.

Great Britain, Jamaica and Germany As Examples To Follow

There is no point reinventing the wheel, all we need do is photocopy models that have worked for other countries and adapt them to our society.

If the Atlanta Olympic Games was Team Nigeria’s best performance at the Olympics, it was the worst outing for Team Great Britain since the Helsinki 1952 Games.

They won one gold medal and just 15 medals overall. Determined to right the wrong, the authorities decreed that sports must not only be part of the school curriculum, but also compulsory for all pupils. They engaged manpower with the right mentality to turn the country’s sports fortune around, and introduced lottery funding for elite sports and athletes.

It was not an overnight success, but Team Great Britain not only experienced a steady climb on the medals table at major games and championships after the Atlanta Games but the society also benefited as a sports industry that contributes billions of pounds to the economy emerged.

Twenty years later, Team Nigeria’s celebrants at Atlanta have fallen from grace to grass. Team Great Britain won a total of 67 medals – 27 gold medals, 23 silver and 17 bronze medals, coming second behind United States, and ahead of China, Russia, Japan and other sports super powers at Rio.

Bill Sweeney, head of Britain’s Olympic Association said it might even be possible to top the medals table at the next Olympics. “Can we topple the Americans? The platform is set for continued success. Tokyo will be tougher. But we have a talented team.”

The story of Jamaica’s rise from being an underachiever to the global king of sprints is what many kids can recount, but what many probably don’t know is that the success is the outcome of a seven-year elite athletes development programme by Jamaican accountant turned sprint coach, Stephen Francis in 2001.

Piqued by Jamaican athletes like Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, Sanya Richards, Ben Johnson, Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, Colin Jackson, Inger Miller, Fiona May, Derrick Atkins, Jessica Ennis, Ato Boldon, and a host of others leaving Jamaica to win laurels for countries like Great Britain, USA, Canada and other nations, Francis sold his car to set up the MVP (“Maximising Velocity and Power”) in 2001 with the aim of producing elite runners within seven years at the University of Technology.

Success came earlier than expected. Three years after, Asafa Powell, a 10.70 sec runner, smashed the world record in the 100 metres twice. Francis also coached the Olympic Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser.

Francis was soon joined by Glen Mills of Racers Track Club, with star athletes like triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt. Seven years after, Jamaica made a bold statement at Beijing 2008 Olympics, winning most of the sprint medals. Since then, Jamaica’s dominance of sprints, hurdles, quarter-miles and relays has been near total.

The story of Germany’s return to the pinnacle of global football in 2014 followed the same pattern.

Dumped from EURO 2000 in the group stage, Germany stated the Extended Talent Promotion Programme. This stipulates that every professional club must build and maintain a centre of excellence and nurture talents.

The project started with 52 centres of excellence, 366 regional coaching bases where 1,300 professional full-time coaches train youngsters, and an annual budget of €48 million.

Jörg Daniel, a former Bundesliga goalkeeper and the director of the Programme said, “If the talent of the century happens to be born in a tiny village behind the mountains, from now on, we will find him.”

12 years after, the Germans are world champions.

A Win-Win Situation for Nigeria

Dalung must take a cue from these countries and lay the foundation for an elite athletes development programme. This will entail a complete overhaul of our administration and management; our sports associations and federations at local, states and federal level; a return of sports to school curriculum; a marriage between sports and education that works like five finger; independent funding for sports outside the budget; elite athletes development centres in all the six geo-political zones; highly competitive and lucrative leagues in as many sports; provision of equipment and facilities; an enabling environment for individuals and corporate organisations to come into sports and many more.

If Dalung can achieve the above, which are possible with the right will and mentality, he would not only have succeeded in starting a process that will lead Team Nigeria to the pinnacle in about seven years, he will also create an industry that will employ millions and generate billions of naira in revenue.

For example, in USA, the sports industry generates roughly $14.3 billion annually, and contributes 456,000 jobs. According to the European Commission, the sports sector accounts for 1.76 percent of the European Gross Value Added (GVA = Gross Domestic Product), which translates to about €175 billion. The sector is also responsible for 2.12 percent of the total employment in Europe, which is about 4.5 million sports jobs.

“No matter what’s going on with the economy, the appetite for sports doesn’t change. It’s almost recession-proof.” says Brian Smith, Ph.D, Dean of Grand Canyon University’s recently launched Colangelo School of Sports Business.

In a nation where about 80 percent of the citizens are passionate about one sport or the other, Dalung has a huge market that will consume sports products.

A vibrant sports industry in Nigeria, apart from engaging thousands of youth directly as participants, coaches, sports science personnel, medical staff and others, will create job for thousands of unemployed youth in sports marketing, as media, stewards, and many more. It will also lead to a boom in manufacturing sports equipment, kits, boosts tourism and create healthier citizens.

Our failure in Rio could be a blessing in disguise if Dalung could jettison the narrow thinking of past ministers and top sports administrators of promising to start preparation for the next games immediately, which they never fulfill, by laying a solid foundation for the evolution of a national sports culture, which will lead to a vibrant sports industry that will make significant contributions to the economy.

Opportunities to make history and write one’s name in gold rarely comes twice when one is in public office, it’s in Dalung’s interest to grab his with both hands and become the man who resurrected sports culture in Nigeria and laid the foundation for our sports industry.

Olukayode Thomas, a two time CNN African Journalist of the Year Award Winner, writes from Lagos.