Sport, as we all know, is one of the most effective ways of keeping the youth engaged, and contributes in no small measure to the holistic development of the whole person. We hardly give ourselves the credit in Nigeria, but Sport has been one of the unifying factors that bind the Nigerian nation together. When we are on the field of play, we don’t remember any religious or ethnic divides – we are just Nigerians, and we want to win, for the glory of our country.
Sport is one of the ways in which we inculcate the right ethos in our youth, to better equip them to become leaders. Sport teaches necessary life skills including: individual and collective responsibility, fellow feeling and the benefits of team-working to achieve a common goal. These are all qualities we need in our daily lives, and which are crucial to strengthening the building blocks of the Nigerian character.
Not to mention that sport offers the ultimate vision of the excellence inherent in the human body and psychology, when it is finely tuned by discipline, training, continuous application and the right mental attitude. Not to mention that sports keep us fit to better confront the challenges of life.
Sport, therefore, is more than just entertainment. It has given us some of the purest moments of joy and pride in our national life. Our society is in dire need of heroes who are not just captains of industry and so on, and sports is a veritable conveyor belt that constantly produces heroes – sporting role models – to inspire and propel the dreams and aspirations of our youth, to let them know that they, too, can achieve it, if they would just try.
That said, it is important that we remind ourselves of the many challenges in the arena, especially in terms of grassroots sports development. Back in the day, hardly anyone could pass out of secondary school without been active in Inter-House Sports and Inter-School and Inter-State Sports Competitions, and so on. This was the case back then, whether in public or private schools – and the would-be sports stars discovered their talents and mapped out their future direction in that regard – right from school. Sporting organisations, administrators and talent scouts identified gifted athletes early, and helped guide them into realising their potential. Is it like that today? How many Inter-House Sports activities are taking place today in our schools?
There is an urgent need to intensify efforts in this direction. We must redouble our search for future Olympians who will raise Nigeria’s colours in glory. It is all very well when we applaud sporting starts of Nigerian origin who win medals for other countries. But the question we should ask ourselves is this: would this person have achieved similar success if they had stayed back home in Nigeria? I am not sure we can answer that question with too much confidence. We must take it as a challenge, therefore, to create the enabling, encouraging and nurturing environment at home that will see our sporting stars properly developed under the guidance of a visionary Nigerian sporting establishment. We must invest in sporting infrastructure and see to it that the remuneration and stipends of our sportsmen and women are remitted efficiently, as and when due, to keep them encouraged.
Only recently, I had the special pleasure of being among the joyous crowd that cheered on the Super Eagles at the Uyo Stadium, as the National team qualified for the 2018 World Cup. But we must remember that football is not the only sport. Let us commit ourselves to working for the growth of all sports – so that we can have even greater chances of showing up strongly on those medal tables.
In the last few days, I have been cheered by news of the achievement of a trio of Nigerian young ladies – Seyi Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omega – who together make up the history making Nigerian bobsled team that has qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics. It is the first time a team from a tropical country such as ours will be breaking down boundaries to participate at the Winter tournament, proving that life truly imitates art. Some of you may remember a hit film from the 1990s, titled ‘Cool Runnings’ which was based on what had seemed like an impossible premise – black people competing, and winning, on snow. Thanks to our wave-making bobsled team, the fictional story of that film, is now reality, with Nigeria at the driving seat. It is my firm belief that we should replicate and engineer such success stories here at home.
By His Excellency (Dr.) Abubakar Bukola Saraki C.O.N
President of The Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria.