By Tony Ubani
As the zero hour approaches swiftly on May 29th handover of power to the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Sports stakeholders have risen in unison to proclaim that the time to use sports as the engine for development, to create opportunities in which youth can tap into the power of team- building and leadership development is now.
Sports, overtime, has been a veritable tool for reconciliation and the time has come for us to use it to bridge the gaps that divided us as a people during the past elections.
That Nigeria has become a fractured place is to say the least of how a once-united country has drifted on ethnic lines as witnessed during the last elections.
Nelson Mandela similarly recognized the unique power of sport to heal and bring together a deeply divided South Africa.
At a time of great tension over his election as the country’s first black president, Mandela appeared on the. field after the Springboks won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, wearing the team’s traditional green jersey and cap. The Johannesburg stadium was filled largely with white South.
Africans, who were initially stunned but soon joined in chanting “Nelson! Nelson!” in a moment that will be remembered for ever as the ultimate example of the healing power of sports.
Mandela said:“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair.”
The lip service that past Nigerian Government paid to sports should be addressed and free it from the hands of politicians who see and use sports to reward their party loyalists.
The sports industry has grown globally that Nigeria, with its teeming population and array of talented stars, should be encouraged to place the country on the world map. According to Business Wire, the sports industry reached a value of nearly $486.6 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to nearly $614.1 billion in 2023. These figures speak volumes for Nigeria to know that sports has grown beyond treating it with levity.
Jamaica, far from being a haven of peace, holds one of the world’s highest crime rates, with 40.9 homicides for 100,000 inhabitants according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
This situation slows down national growth as well as tourism – which is one of the island’s main financial resources. In order to solve this problem, several leading figures such as PJ Patterson – former Prime Minister- chose to set up sport practice as a significant step for Jamaican economic development. And like a bolt out from the blue, the native island of Bob Marley has turned sports to become the cornerstone of their economic development. The numerous titles won by Jamaica’s famous athletes like Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottey, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell Brown, Asafa Powell, John Barnes among others has given the island an international outreach it could definitely benefit from.
So also, over the years a number of Nigerian sports men and women have risen to the top of their game and. attained global recognition and should be used as role models.
Athletes like Chioma Ajunwa, World record holder Tobi Amusan, Israel ‘Izzy’ Adesanya, Kamarudeen ‘Kamaru’ Usman, Kanu Nwankwo, Victor Osimhen, Blessing Oborodudu to mention but a few should act as a factor of integration, Ambassador of peace, and help to establish friendly relations between different countries and societies.
Sport is a compelling tool to promote peace, tolerance, and understanding, bringing people together across boundaries, cultures, and religions.
Its values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline, and respect are understood all over the world and. can be utilized in the advancement of solidarity and social cohesion.
Sports, no doubt, is the much-needed paradigm shift the new Government needs because of its ability to tame crime rate among the youngest population, through the teaching of values such as fair play, for instance.