Sport Nigeria, a private sector initiative that aims to boost the development, investment, and funding of the sports industry across the nation, has launched too much fanfare in Lagos.
Dr. Henry Nzekwu, who represented the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, at the launch event, highlighted the responsibility of stakeholders, such as the government, the private sector, sponsors, and the international community, to seize the opportunities inherent in the move to industrialize sport in Nigeria.
Nkechi Obi, Chief Executive of Sports Nigeria, was keen to emphasize that the initiative is not about the Olympics or the World Cup, but rather for the 100 million Nigerians who want to take part in sports but do not have sufficient access.
Nevertheless, the success of the national football team is of vital importance to Nigerians and the future of Nigerian football is demonstrated by Taiwo Awoniyi, the 25-year-old striker who joined English Premier League club Nottingham Forest from Union Berlin in a deal worth £18.45 million this summer. While he has made just four appearances for the Nigerian national team, his raised profile in one of the top leagues in the world could see him become a regular fixture for the Super Eagles.
Newly promoted Nottingham Forest is expected to face a relegation battle this season and is +162.5 to be relegated with Ladbrokes, while Unibet rates Forest as a +175 chance to drop into the Championship via Openchange.org. But if Awoniyi can keep scoring, the club could achieve its aim of remaining in the lucrative Premier League. He has already made an immediate impact, scoring his first goal for the club in the second game of the season against West Ham United.
A World Cup disaster
The initiative has emerged at a crucial moment in the history of sport in Nigeria following the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Nigeria made its first appearance at a World Cup in USA in 1994 and, until 2022, qualified for every tournament with the exception of the tournament held in Germany in 2006. But the absence of Nigeria in Qatar is not just a sporting disappointment, aljazeera.com has reported that it is also an economic blow that has cost Nigerian tour operators dearly and is a missed opportunity to showcase the most populous country in Africa and encourage tourism.
The best African nation at the Commonwealth Games
However, the strengths of Nigerian sport were demonstrated at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, in Birmingham, England, where the country finished in seventh place in the medal standings. Nigeria achieved a total of 35 medals, including 12 golds, making it the number one African country at the quadrennial athletics tournament. Nigerian women were particularly impressive, not just winning all of the nation’s golds, but also dominating a diverse range of sports highlighted by the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay, Ese Brume’s victory in the Women’s Long Jump, and Chioma Onyekwere’s triumph in the Women’s Discus Throw. The silver medal-winning exploits of female wrestler Anshu Malik were reported in detail by espn.com.
The Sport Nigeria initiative is a bold attempt to transform sport into an industry in the Giant of Africa. The potential of the nation’s sporting achievement is highlighted by the performance of Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games. By providing access to the many millions of Nigerians who want to participate in sports, the development could provide the impetus for the most populous country in Africa to dominate sports on the continent.