Today is being observed as International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. The day is set aside to draw the attention of the international community to the important roles sport has historically played in all societies, be it in form of competitive sport, physical activities or play.
The United Nations (UN) recognised sport as a veritable tool for international cohesion and integration when, in 1978, one of its critical organs, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) described sport and physical education as a “fundamental right for all”.
As a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and network, and to promote the ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence, tolerance and justice, sport has gone beyond a platform for mere pastime. It is a universal language that brings people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, respect for the opponents and the rules of the game are understood all over the world and can be harnessed in the advancement of solidarity, social cohesion and peaceful co-existence.
The imperative of sport for socio-economic development and peace building cannot be overemphasised. In recent years, sport has contributed immensely to bridging the political, tribal and religious divides among Nigerians. Nothing else unites Nigeria than sport. It is in sport that Nigerians set aside their differences to champion a common cause. In sport, such mundane considerations like quota system patter into insignificance in choosing representations for the country in international championships. Capabilities take precedence over other pettiness in the choice of players and team handlers.
However, sport has not had a fair deal in the country. Aside from
football, other sports have not received the needed attention. This state of affairs is not helpful for development generally. Considering the fact that more than 60 percent of the nation’s population are made up of youths, opportunity for sport should not be limited to football. Governments at all levels should give equal attention to all sports.
Nigerians are extremely passionate about sports they participate in or support. Government should encourage them by providing facilities for them to discover their talents. Also disappointing is the neglect of school sports where the nation can discover and harvest raw materials to national and international meets.
It is a sad situation to see that most schools at the primary and secondary levels cannot boast of sporting facilities. The private ones are notorious in this regard. Such schools are operated in residential houses or makeshift structures which are not conducive for teaching and learning, let alone carry sports along.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world in celebrating the Day, we advise the federal government to consider as a matter of urgency the issue of setting up a Sports Trust Fund to drive the nation’s sports at different levels. It is quite obvious that government cannot run sports alone without support from the private sector.
The reason why our sports have stagnated, leading to poor results recorded at international competitions, is lack of political will by government to fund sports comprehensively, as exemplified by the neglect suffered by the nation’s flagship competition, the National Sports Festival, which almost consigned it to the dustbin of history, until the federal government rescued it by facilitating the staging of Edo 2019 after it had suffered a series of postponements.
Similarly, sporting federations
at the state and federal levels should conduct regular programmes especially at the grassroots with the aim of unearthing local talents.
Government ought to tap into the abundant human resources that sports offer by engaging our teeming youths productively. The number of Nigerian footballers and athletes plying their trades overseas is nothing compared to those at home desiring to showcase their God-given talents that could also open doors for them.
Sport, no doubt, can provide a route to escape joblessness, criminal tendencies such as kidnapping, armed robbery, terrorism, banditry and allied crimes which most of the youths are engaged in as a means of survival.