by Ade Ojeikere
IS sports truly “play play” as one governor once described it? Who will challenge us to see sports as a platform to bolster the country’s revenue? Doesn’t the government know that sports is the best vehicle for massive employment?
Spain’s economy, a growing one like Nigeria’s, relies greatly on the volume of cash generated from the sports sector. FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, Valencia are not all about football. They have basketball clubs, volleyball clubs, athletics clubs etc, which are professionally run. But football serves as the fountain where others seek succour, considering its followership as the king of sports.
Little wonder the hefty taxes on defaulting players and coaches, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Jose Mourinho et al, which enhance revenue for the Spanish economy. Of course, without taxes, countries will suffer as they need to further develop. Consider Ronaldo’s $20m fine (avoided two-year jail term), Messi’s $2.2m fine (avoided two-year jail term), Xabi Alonso’s $2.8m fine, Mascherano’s £611,000 fine and Jose Mourinho’s €2.2m and a one-year suspended prison sentence, Radamel Falcao’s €9m fine and Neymar Jr’s £1.9 million to Brazil tax authorities.
La Liga’s contribution in Spain’s national economy is no less than any other top-run industry in the country. The two elite division football leagues in Spain generate 185,000 jobs, €4.1 billion ($4.66 bn) in taxes and a turnover equal to 1.37% of the national GDP. This is one sport – football. Others are also run as businesses. Sample: Vuelta a España, a race around Spain and one of cycling’s biggest events.
Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues spent a record £5billion on players this summer despite Premier League clubs, usually the continent’s most active shoppers, slightly reining in their spending, Deloitte has revealed.
According to analysis from the professional services company’s Sports Business Group, Spanish clubs spent £1.24billion, breaking the 1bn-euros mark for the first time and more than doubling their expenditure from just two years ago. But there were also summer spending records set in Italy (£1.06billion), Germany (£670million) and France (£605million).
Premier League clubs still led the way, though, with £1.41billion, although the net spent was only £575million, the lowest since 2015. That net-spend figure also fell by £50million since the league shut its transfer window on August 8, more than three weeks earlier than many of its European peers. Guess what, the English teams, having learned from their folly, are moving to revert to the old order in the transfer market by November, having seen what they lost as revenue to the early closure of the transfer market on August 8.
I’ve chosen Spain, being a developing economy like ours, to illustrate how the citizenry’s passion for soccer can be exploited to fund other sports without ‘killing’ football, which provides a big chunk of the cash. Nigerians love soccer as much as the Spaniards, but their administrators are driven by the landmarks for growth they put in place than what comes into their pockets, the bane of Nigerian administrators.
In Spain, the government’s role is purely advisory, ensuring that nobody is above the law, as we have seen with high profile players and coaches being made to face the law. The Sports minister should persuade the National Assembly’s leadership to prioritise the enactment of the National Sports Commission (NSC) Bill and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Bill, if we hope to have the Spanish template, which isn’t necessarily the best, but a starting point. No corporate body will fund sports, if the government continues to dictate what happens there. But with the NSC Bill and the NFF Bill, the two parastatals can sue and be sued in the law court in the event of breaches in business transactions.
The biggest and cheapest Public Relations (PR), tool which the country can use to change people’s perception of Nigeria, is sports. I always recall what happened in Atlanta in 1996, after Chioma Ajunwa won the women’s long jump event. An elated Ajunwa did the victory lap of honour ‘naked’ (not having the Nigerian flag around her neck as it is traditionally done on such an occasion). She saw a little American girl in the crowd holding Nigeria’s flag.
Ajunwa ran towards the little girl, took the flag and completed the lap of honour – fulfilled. Nobody thought Ajunwa would win the triple jump, with football crazy officials opting to travel that day to watch the Dream Team I in training ahead of its next game. At that time, Nigeria was a pariah nation due to the jackboot era of the late Sani Abacha. Yet, American newspapers splashed Ajunwa on their cover the next day. Ajunwa dominated the airspace, granting interviews. Dream Team I, Nigeria’s soccer team at the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games, shook Georgia the night it lifted the gold medal, beating Argentina 2-3 in the finals. I recall how security operatives reeled out the names of Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Jay Jay Okocha et al after the games when they realised we were Nigerians.
Nigeria couldn’t build on the window of opportunities available to our winners, especially the football side because we had a minister who ruled that the team shouldn’t be beaten. What a reason. This minister ensured that all requests from the countries that we beat for a rematch were rejected on spurious grounds. Had Nigeria accepted those games, our football would have gained immensely. Such needless intervention by the minister deters sponsors from identifying their goods and services with the industry. Twenty- three years on, nothing has changed. I sincerely hope that the new minister’s tenure will be different.
It is unethical to gauge the country’s soccer growth from the prism of our foreign legion, especially where a higher percentage of this foreign-based players are Nigeria-born lads – no disrespect to their contributions to our growth in the last three decades. The domestic league is lying prostrate, with those charged to run the place bereft of ideas. Minister Sunday Dare will need to meet with the real owners of the clubs – governors – to appeal to them to constitute their management bodies, which should be peopled by technocrats who are adept in football administration, not cronies who see the clubs as another avenue for the boys to “chop-and-clean-mouth”.
At the meeting with the governors, the minister should appeal to them to see the clubs as business concerns capable of increasing their states’ GDP and creating jobs, if the administrators know their onions. A club, which is properly run, can be effectively used to mobilise the people and keep youths off social vices. Governors can use these clubs as their Public Relations (PR) tools to influence people’s perception of their administrations, just as they can be used as the rallying point for government to educate the people on their actions – and inaction.
The European transfer season ended on September 2. Clubs from the five big leagues splashed five billion pounds on recruitment of players to strengthen their teams. This is just a pointer to how much some of these clubs are worth. No club or even the body running the leagues can tell us how much clubs are worth. This is why our clubs can’t be taken to the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE). The league’s organisers, I dare say, are full of sycophants who won’t tell the leadership the truth – that the game is dead.
It is sickening to read that the domestic league cannot throw up good players, simply because we have a league body that is indifferent to what happens to the senior side. Football crazy countries celebrate the emergence of new kids on the bloc, not the recycling of aged or forgotten stars on the altar of giving the coaches free hand to do their jobs.
It is tragic that our local league competition has not begun, making the clubs vunerable to mass exodus of players whenever the transfer windows of serious-minded leagues open in January. This explains why our teams fumble during continental assignments, since they wouldn’t have played enough matches to become formidable sides that can fight for honours. We need to invigorate the operations of the league body, beginning with fresh elections into the league board. Parameters for voting into offices should be adhered to. The chairman of the league board should be a club boss, not what we have now.
The minister will need to meet with firms who have embraced sports to know what problems they have with the federations. At that meeting, the firms should be told what they stand to benefit from sports sponsorship. After that, a dinner with the President, essentially for sports friendly firms, preferably early January.
All sports federations should inform the minister how much they get as grants from their continental and international bodies. And this should include the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC). The era when administrators did what pleased them is gone. Grants should be effectively utilised by those who bring us glory – athletes and coaches.
You want to share a story with us? You want to advertise? You need publicity for a product, service, or event? Contact us on WhatsApp – +234 803 3018 881