At the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, at least five athletes of Nigerian origin won medals for other countries, whereas Nigeria as a country won only two medals – one silver and one bronze.
As Nigerian athletes shine and bring glory to other countries, the same once happened with Jamaica, until the country had to be deliberate in retaining its talents. Nigeria can learn a lot from Jamaica, home to the world’s top athletes, in catching, developing and retaining its young sports talents, even as the country increasingly records brain drain.
The exodus of talent has serious implications for the growth and development of the country’s sports industry both in the local and international scenes. Apart from the contribution of sports to the human body, it also plays an important role through employment generation.
According to BusinessDay research, the Jamaican government spots new talents through its annual school’s athletics competition known as Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships, popularly called “Champs.” The championship helps to develop and retain them or prevent them from being scouted by other countries through private sector sponsorships and financial benefits from international sports bodies.
Some of Jamaica’s valued sponsors are the Sports Development Foundation; Supreme Ventures Limited, a lottery and gaming provider, and Puma, a global German kit manufacturer, etc. Recently, Puma signed a renewed endorsement contract with Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. The brand has been partnering with the Jamaican World and Olympic Champion since he was 16 years old.
But in Nigeria, Puma terminated its four-year sponsorship deal valued at about $2.76 million with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN). The reason for the termination of the deal was due to various occasions of a breach of contract, including Nigeria’s athletes’ inability to wear the brand at the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Apart from sponsorships, Jamaica has an athlete’s insurance plan, which provides coverage for junior athletes that represent the country and an annual $130 million scholarship provided by the local universities, which have enabled athletes to pursue tertiary studies.
For Akinradewo Foluke, the Tokyo Olympics is the third for the 33-year-old, helping the USA women’s volleyball team win gold. Ujah Chindu, the 27-year-old lead-off runner for the 4x100m relay team won silver for Great Britain. Bam Adebayo played for the US basketball team, which eventually won gold. Ajomale Bolade won a gold medal for Canada in the men’s 4x100m event. Desalu Eseosa helped the Italian Men’s 4x100m quartet win gold. Born to Nigerian parents, the 27-year-old was born and raised in Italy and acquired full Italian citizenship in 2012.
Before the most recent Olympics, Gloria Alozie, a Nigerian track legend switched nationality to Spain for whom she won a gold medal at the 2002 European championship, and Oluwakemi Adekoya, a Nigerian-born athlete who specialises in 400 metres, defected to Bahrain and represented the country at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.
“A sportsman probably has 10-15 years to do all that he can and earn what he can. Nigeria has not been very appreciative, so we need to have a system in place to guarantee their future,” remarked Felix Awogu, general manager of SuperSport West Africa.
“People go abroad to develop their skills set because it is widely accepted there. A lot of these Nigerians who play for foreign countries are not just making their money from football or other sports, they make it through sponsorships,” Jennifer Oyelade, director of Transquisite Consulting, an international human resource consultancy, said.
Until Nigeria starts operating on a global platform showcasing their players for bilateral partnerships and relationships on a global platform, that is when Nigerian players will stay in Nigeria and look at the possibilities they can get through partnerships rather than leaving the country, Oyelade stated.
The various challenges in Nigeria’s sports industry such as poor management, lack of accountability, bad reward system and lack of adequate facilities in primary and secondary schools to train and build young talents are making athletes to change their national allegiances to other countries as a way to keep their sports dreams alive.
“It is not gainsaying to state that Nigeria’s sports system falls short of global standards across all ramifications,” Damilola Adewale, a Lagos-based economic analyst, said.
Adewale advised that the Federal Government should set up a trust fund dedicated basically for sports development, saying, “Apart from the government’s contributions to the fund, efforts should be designed to attract private sector participation in the fund.
“While I am aware some schools have sport as a course of study, the curriculum should be revised to capture the investment and economic dimension of sports. This would encourage youth to study sports and settle for sport as a profession.”