Pros and Cons of Heavy Government Participation in Nigeria Sports

The word ‘sport’ comes from the Old French word ‘desport’ meaning leisure, with the oldest definition in English from around 1300AD being “anything humans find amusing or entertaining”.

Cambridge English Dictionary defines sport as a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job.

Nevertheless, the debate on what is the true definition of sport will continue to rage on, though, an activity can be considered a sport if it involves: Competition between two or more individuals or teams; Rules of play that allow a winner to be determined; A primary goal of victory; Victory determined by the relative physical ability of the competitors, although strategy and chance may also play a role.

Sports activities can also be classified into two broad categories from the economic perspective. The profit-oriented sports activities and those for social or non-profit sports activities. Sports evolved as a social recreation activity from mere entertainment and leisure to later becoming a business activity purely for-profit motive.

The private sector involvement in sports is in most cases for profit motive while the public sector focuses more on the social aspect of sports not- for-profit motive in most cases.

The sports sector in Nigeria over the years have been dominated by government funding. This explains the overbearing control of the sports sector by the government since they are mostly responsible for the financing. The major sporting events at the local and national levels are largely controlled by the government. Unlike what obtains in other climes, the Professional Sports Clubs in Nigeria are mainly owned by State Governments. Similarly, most of the major sports facilities are owned and managed by the government.

Coming to the various acts and laws regulating sporting activities in Nigeria it is pertinent to note that there have been several sports policies designed to promote sports development in the country. The first was the first National Sports Policy in 1989 which was revised in 2003 and revised again in 2009. Several reports and advisory committees have also contributed to the efforts to create a vibrant sports sector, in Nigeria as shown below:

  1. 2003 President Obasanjo Sports Policy Review Report
  2. 2009 Presidential Advisory Committee on Sports Report
  3. Vision 2010 Sports Development Strategy Report
  4. 2014 National Physical Education and School Sports Policy
  5. 2016 Ministerial Report on Sports Development
  6. Vision 2020 Sports Development Strategy Report

The most recent National Sports Policy in Nigeria was developed in 2009 and was a result of a review of past efforts at creating a position for sports as a social and economic contributor to national development, by the Vision 20:2020 National Technical Working Group Report on Sports Development.

In the course of their work, a review of past policies, panel reports and other relevant documents on sports development showed huge gaps between policies and implementation; absence of clear strategies that recognized critical linkages between sports, education, foreign policy, tourism, urban development, human capacity development, science, technology and innovations, special groups (women, youth, physically challenged persons) manufacturing, private sector participation and timely funding, to tackle the long term planning sports development requires.

This contrasts with practices in the leading sports countries where legislation, the entrenchment of sports in the school system, application of sports science and private sector involvement are recognized as essential for socio-economic growth and development. It is also required by the private sector to promote sports optimally.

In the light of this observation, it, therefore, becomes pertinent to seek a possible pathway pending a constitutional amendment that would enable the FederalGovernment to throw its weight legally behind the goal of an industrialization agenda for sports development.

Under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, there are political, economic and social objectives which can be harnessed for sports development as follows:

1. Political objectives include the encouragement of national integration and the prohibition of discrimination. Sport is a major source of national integration and the promotion of sports competition and participation would help in the attainment of this goal.

2. Economic objectives include the promotion of national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy. The advancement of sport means that not only is it a source of livelihood for sportsmen and women, but also for those involved in coaching/education, infrastructure provision and maintenance as well as other allied ventures. Sport is also an enabler for industries such as media and merchandising. The development of sports has widespread economic benefits and is, therefore, a paramount interest for the Federal Government.

3. Social objectives include the provision of adequate facilities for leisure, medical and health purposes. The promotion of sports development includes recreation and leisure, which ultimately promote health and general wellbeing.

Given the above, Item 60 of the Exclusive Legislative List provides that the National Assembly has the power to make laws for “the establishment and regulation of authorities for the Federationor any part thereof.

Under commercial considerations, several issues are found here because sport is currently government-dominated with limited private sector interest. Sport is yet to be regarded as a national asset, hence no specific sense of “obligation” by other stakeholders. Also, there is no enabling environment for private sector investments. In summary, there is much focus on participation and not the business opportunities derivable from the entire value chain in sports.



From the foregoing, there must be identifiable feasible ways for all tiers of government to jointly contribute to the development of sports under the current constitutional framework.

On the way forward:

1. The Federal Government should provide enabling legislation for the development of the sports industry.

2. Coordinating periodic review of the National Sports Industry Policy in collaboration with relevant stakeholders from all sectors of the economy.

3. Designing a Framework and Action Plan to engage with the private sector to drive Public Private Partnership (PPP) on sports facilities development, management and maintenance.

4. Creating a conducive environment for increased participation in sports including designing a National Curriculum for Physical Education/Sports in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Developmentand the Federal Ministry of Education.

5. Creating a Framework and Incentives Package for Private Sector participation and investment in sports, especially in leveraging the ancillary sectors such as media, manufacturing, real estate development, capacity development of the sports industry value chain, to add value to the nation’s economy.

6. Co-ordinating all Sporting Activities at the National Level – Monitoring, Evaluating and Coordinating of sports development strategies including talent development and management, preparation of athletes and officials for international multi-sports events in collaboration with the Nigerian Olympic Committee, Nigerian Paralympic Committee and the National Sports Federations.

7. Supervision and Monitoring of National Sports Federations and their activities through the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development in line with the approved governance and management structure guidelines of the International Federations including funding and provision of subscription/affiliation fees to the International Federations.

8. Provision of adequate budgetary allocation of 3% – 5% of Total Budget of the Federation for sports.

9. Creation of a Capacity Development and Improvement Framework for the Registration and Certification of Technical personnel such as coaches, trainers, games masters, facility managers, etc. required in sports development as well as across the sports industry value chain.

10. Organizing and funding Research in Sports Development across the various ancillary sectors of the industry.

11. Develop a partnership framework to facilitate and maximize Bilateral and Multilateral relationships to enhance the development of sports and its associated industries.

With regards to the importance of government participation in sport, it is worthy to note that the mass appeal of sports allows governments to generate goodwill among countries, and to facilitate exchanges between nations. They are a great bonding and meeting place for government officials, and an excellent way to develop trust and loyalty between countries – and governments use sports to do just that. The governments use sport to provide the parameters for everyday behaviour for citizens, protect them from outside interference, and often provide for their well-being and happiness.

Whether we are high-performance athletes, current or aspiring sport management professionals or simply just love watching the game, sports play a large role in many lives of people around the world. The reasons why we become so involved in sport are obvious including but not limited to social connections, exercise, passion and competition.

Government uses sports to promote fitness and health among citizens because inactive individuals are estimated to incur extra health care costs per year as opposed to active individuals in a country. Physical inactivity can lead to an increase in a variety of health concerns including coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension, colon cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis (to name just a few).

Government involvement in sports, especially in highly publicized events, is often aimed at garnering recognition and prestige. Recognition would allow people around the world to identify a community or nation from previous knowledge. That previous knowledge could be tied to sports, especially if there is prestige tied to it.

Prestige refers to a good reputation or being held in high esteem. Among the benefits of being tied to a sports event, team or athlete are financial rewards. By smiling and posing alongside successful athletes in the media, the government can improve their political capital, which in turn can help them to maintain order within society.

Each year the government spends millions of tax payer’s money on pro teams and international events and the idea behind this is that though yes, it is a large investment, the sporting industry will eventually pay it back by increasing the tourism sector and increasing infrastructure development.

Sports transcend borders, cultures, languages, genders, races, religions, and economic statuses. In other words, regardless of who we are, where we are from, or what we believe in, we can all enjoy sports. Sports are something that is played in every culture of the world – from Canada to the U.S., from England to Italy, and from Korea to India, and all other nations of the world – we all share a love of sports.

As we said earlier, sports connect us – but not just in our regions, they connect us around the world. Governments are utterly aware of this. The mass appeal of sports allows governments to generate goodwill among countries, and to facilitate exchanges between nations.

The aforementioned are many reasons that governments involve themselves in sport. However, coming to the pros (already discussed above) and cons of the impact of heavy government participation in sports one can attest that sport for development has been proven to be effective for solving social issues by the government. Nowadays, there are many challenges that need to be solved for sports to become a bigger player within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While sport can be an important tool for addressing the SDGs, it also has some limitations. It may not be possible – or even appropriate – to use it in all circumstances.

In making an appraisal of the ownership structure of sports clubs and its implication for sports development in Nigeria it is worthy to take a critical look at what is obtainable in other developed countries.

In 2017, crisis rocked the leadership of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) after the Federation failed to elect new leaders. The election into the board of the Federation was earlier marred by crisis and the attempt to conduct a fresh one ended inconclusively as the three candidates that were vying for the plum job failed to muster enough votes. The crises were resolved later however, the Serie A and all other cadres of the Italian league were never affected. Nothing was heard of the crisis due to the ownership structure of the clubs and operations of the management structure of the Football Federation.

According to an article, ‘The Relationship Between Ownership Structure and Club Performance in The English Premier League’, written on “Sports, Business and Management”, a sports publishing content that dwells on sports marketing, there were three major ownership structures in club football with varied returns on investment.

There is the Supporters Trust Structure, which thrusts the greater share of ownership on the supporters. It cited Portsmouth as an example where 75% of the club’s ownership is on Pompey Supporters Trust Limited.

There is the Stock Market Ownership Model (Manchester United FC is a good example) where the club is traded publicly on the stock market. The whole principle behind the stock market model would allow a football club to raise capital. From a purely business perspective, the stock market model must provide a return on investment for the shareholders of the club or it would not be considered a sound business investment.

Also obtainable in the European club football is the Foreign Ownership Model, where very wealthy individuals/Institutions will buy a top-flight football team and then pump millions into the club (Newcastle United FC recently acquired by a Consortium of Investors including the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia is a good example), the majority of which we see spent on inflated transfer fees and astronomical wage budgets. So, the measure for success with this sort of ownership structure is winning ‘on the pitch’ rather than positive financial performance.

Then, there is the Core Domestic Ownership Model. In this, one individual owns the club but in general, is not able to bankroll a team as with more prominent foreign ownership. Bill Kenwright and Everton is a good example of this.

The four ownership structures have one thing in common; they are all devoid of government participation.

But the same cannot be said of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). Apart from two clubs – FC Ifeanyi Ubah and MFM FC – all the other teams campaigning in the league are owned by state governments, which have turned what should have been veritable business enterprises into a publicity arm of the state governments.

That was the reason the stakeholders will agree to suspend the league at the least crisis. While the major leagues in the world were on break during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, virtually all the leagues in Africa were operational during the World Cup, raising questions why Nigeria will ground the domestic affairs due to the World Cup.

The questions are legion. If the NPFL clubs are managed and owned on the basis of the four structures noted above and with strong intent on exploiting all avenues to make money, there was no need for the domestic league to be grounded during the World Cup and because of the crises in the Nigeria Football Federation.

Adegboye Onigbinde, one of the experienced managers in Nigeria, told reporters then that there was no need for the league to be grounded over NFF’s leadership issues. The former FIFA and CAF technical instructor averred that in other climes, the league would be running despite the leadership crisis.

The reason for the suspension is simple; state governors, who should be the heads of the clubs, are not too concerned about the business aspect of revenue generation. Moreover, they do not rightly expect the games to be run beyond entertainment intent to keep the youths engaged.

A visit to stadiums of state-owned clubs will reveal the level of politics that has been brought into club football by the state governments. For instance, at the Agege Stadium, the home ground of MFM FC. The wall of the stands housing the VIP and the press is embossed with messages from the Lagos State Government.

If the clubs were owned by individuals or institutions, who are out to maximize profits, such items will be non-existent and where they are allowed, they will be paid for.

In 2016, Arsenal was reported to have generated about £120.4million from the stadium throughout the 2014/15 season match days with the earnings coming from spectators at their 61,000-seater Emirates Stadium and commercials also at the stadium.

From experience, governments are not good managers of business. We must get out of the idea that football will die if the government hands off funding the sport. Football flourishes better in private hands going by the experience of major football countries across the world.

If the right professionals are managing Nigerian football like a business, with all the departments – finance and accounts, administrations and marketing – functioning as they should, Nigeria football will come up tops. The solution is that the NFF should be truly independent with a focus on managing the macro aspect of football in the country while the league and football clubs should be private sector-driven. In this regard, the government is expected to create an enabling environment for the sports sector to thrive.

The value chain of returning football to individuals/private sector will be huge even though it may seem difficult initially. Given the inherent opportunities, the football league in Nigeria is capable of providing several jobs if the intention is to exploit the business prospects of the game. This is because the owners of the clubs will engage experts and seek sponsors, who will also engage experts to make sure that their investments are protected. The ripple effect is that it will rub off on all sectors of the economy positively.

Therefore, it is the stand of this article that Public Private Participation (PPP) with more emphasis on the private sector is the most effective strategy that can work in harmony to improve sports development in Nigeria. The government must show the political will to encourage private sector investors to play a more dominant role in the development of the sports industry in the country with attractive incentives.

The new National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) is a product of the review of stakeholders’ engagement sessions, vital resource documents from various national sports policies of Nigeria and a few from other countries as well.

The sole intention is to turn Sports into Business and away from its mere recreational focus in line with international best practices. The Draft 2020 National Sports Industry Policy document is ultimately aimed at reclassifying sports as a business, not as ‘recreation’, with various positive implications for the sector. These include contributing to job creation for our youth, improved reward system for the talented sportsmen and women, investment in infrastructures development as well as additional revenue generation that will increase the value of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The sports industry in Nigeria must be developed now as a viable business sector capable of attracting significant investments and funding from the private sector. This is to complement government funding in order to deliver tremendous benefits to all stakeholders in the sports ecosystem. Sports is big business as evidenced by reliable statistical data in the developed countries. Therefore, the Nigeria Sports Sector must be repositioned to take its rightful place and share in the global sports market. This could be achieved given the potential of the talented youths in large population and the demand for the consumption of sports products and services.