The Transformation of Nigerian Sports: Beyond Football

Nigerian sports
Written by Robin Okwanma

Nigeria prides itself in producing a crop of talented sportsmen and women, who have excelled at local and international sporting events. This is particularly true of professional football; and athletics to a lesser degree. The sheer determination to succeed is exhibited by both established and emerging Nigerian sports stars. However, that determination is not a product of any meaningful incentive or outstanding inputs by the government over the years.


It has taken the direct involvement of more private sponsors, investors, and talent discovery experts to rescue and sustain sports development in Nigeria. There are so many types of sports yet untapped in Nigeria. And it is high time we create opportunities to invest more in the Nigerian sports sector for many beneficial reasons. 

Why Football & Athletics are the Most Favored Nigerian Sports 

For many years, Nigerian football players at the local level did not receive the desired (and required) attention for quality professional development. That neglect is even worse in other sports events beyond football. But it is now quite clear that the Nigerian government endeavours to pay more attention to football (and to athletics to a lesser degree). The reason is due perhaps to two obvious reasons. 

Firstly, of all Nigerian sports, football has the largest followership nationwide (and worldwide), followed closely by athletics. Football in particular has become a unifying platform, an avenue to demonstrate solidarity and healthy competition amongst Nigerians with their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. The game has become a source of joy and inspiration for the multitudes of Nigerian citizens, in the face of social and economic challenges. 

Yet again, the game of football and its players receive huge levels of investment and sponsorship across Europe and Asia – regardless of where each player comes from. Thus it has led many Nigerian football talents to aspire towards playing for foreign clubs. And many of them  have excelled on the global stage. It has brought great fame and national pride to Nigeria. With such a degree of success, the Nigerian government can no longer ignore the development of professional football in the country. 

In the same vein, many Nigerian stars in the game of athletics prosper exceedingly beyond Africa, where they receive more attention, training, and benefits. Back home, these sportsmen and women have been  largely ignored and uncatered for. 

The Current State of Nigerian Sports

Even more upsetting is the realization that the Nigerian sports sector suffers inadequate allocation of funds in the national budget. It keeps happening year in, year out. Many of the nation’s major sports facilities (especially stadia) are in a state of disrepair; and they lack enough equipment and infrastructure. 

During ex-president Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure, the erstwhile Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, made certain revelations. At that time, it would require at least N10 billion yearly to properly  maintain the federal government-owned stadiums and related facilities. Unfortunately, the entire budget for the sports sector (at the time of the report) was even smaller than this figure. 

The minister also disclosed that no less than N21 billion would be needed to upgrade the National Stadium in Lagos alone (at that time). That amount was higher than a combined two-year budget allocation for the Sports ministry. Today, the required funds are expected to be much higher than that.  

Charting the Way Forward in Nigerian Sports – Beyond Football 

It would be visionless and counterproductive to focus on only one or two segments of Nigerian sports alone. There are many opportunities for economic empowerment, entertainment, global ambassadorship, international recognition, and improved international relations that come with promoting sports development. 

Sports can also create jobs in the aspects of:

  • talent hunt
  • coaching
  • management
  • investment
  • sponsorship
  • manufacturing and supply of sports gear and equipment.

And beyond this, there are likely many undiscovered and emerging talents in other aspects of Nigerian sports (beyond football and athletics). That includes wrestling, boxing, water sports (swimming, canoeing etc), martial arts, basketball, handball, table and lawn tennis, several indoor games, and more. There is a need to create an avenue to discover and manage these talents. 

In order to achieve these and more with Nigerian sports, a combination of initiatives would be required. These include:

Grassroots Mobilization and Engagement

Encouraging sport activities in local communities, by providing training equipment and facilities to interested youths. Both the government and private investors have been using this medium to discover and train upcoming talents. The initiative must continue with renewed zeal.

Investing in Sports Education

Nigerian sports need to be nurtured in all schools – right from the nursery/primary school level. Well-structured sports education and talent discovery programs need to be run in all schools, to allow every child to fully participate and excel. Similarly, such programs should help students to maintain a balance between sports and academic activities for their all-round development. 

Furthermore, these programs can be proposed and run by both the government and private sector initiatives. Additional incentives such as scholarships (and other benefits) can further stimulate students to show interest in sports. 

Policy Support (at The National Level)

A peculiar challenge exists in the administration of sports in the country. For instance, Senator John Enoh (a former university lecturer and farmer) was appointed the new Nigerian Minister of Sports under the Tinubu administration. Yet again, the sports ministry was entrusted into the hands of a person with little or no knowledge of sports administration. 

This pattern of mismatched appointments have been implemented in the Nigerian government (and definitely the Sports Ministry) for a long time. It has set Nigeria on a backward slide in the realms of sports development. 

Nevertheless, the current President Bola Tinubu has proposed a new National Sports Industry Policy. He also promised to provide incentives that will encourage more:

“….private sector investments and participation in sports infrastructural development.”

This is meant to be implemented under the new Sports Development Ministry

Additionally, implementing the National Sports Commission (NSC) Act, which was recently signed into law by the immediate past administration, is paramount.  As observed by Dr. Patrick Ekeji (a former Director-General of the NSC), Nigerian sports might fail to grow until it is run in a professional way. Furthermore, the re-establishment of the NSC act will ensure more effective management of the Nigerian sports sector.

More such policies need to be enforced to stimulate meaningful sports development and promotion in the country. And there is no doubt that recruiting trained sportsmen and women to oversee the Nigerian Sports ministry is now more critical. It will bring huge and focused improvement into sports administration and development in Nigeria. 

Improving the Welfare of Athletes

Many Nigerian athletes have been known to excel abroad, because of better welfare packages available to them. A situation where athletes are not catered or planned for back home will only encourage these sportsmen and women to go elsewhere. Unpatriotic as it may sound, they are left no other option. 

However, some experts have suggested that a national policy to reward athletes that excel in international sports events should be established. It will serve as a big motivation that will meaningfully improve the performances of these athletes. Knowing fully well that their rewards are already in place, our sportsmen and women would go the extra mile. 

They would be more willing to excel at key events such as the Olympics, Commonwealth, or All African Games. In the same vein, these athletes require better training, camping, feeding, remuneration, anti-doping regulations, and monitoring, to keep them focused. 

Training and Infrastructural Development

There is a critical need for all stakeholders (both government and private investors) to invest in training Nigerian athletes and coaches. This is in addition to providing modern sports equipment and facilities; and upgrading our stadia to meet international standards. 

It would require the Nigerian government to provide a larger budget allocation for the development of sports facilities and training centers around the country. This will go far in bringing out the full potential of Nigeria’s sports athletes.



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About the author

Robin Okwanma

Hi, I'm Robin Okwanma. Software Engineer || Django, Python || React, React Native || Blogger. Technical Writer.

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