Former Nigeria international, Emmanuel Babayaro, on Wednesday described sports, especially football, as a sector that could help in solving the country’s socioeconomic problems.
Babayaro told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that the sports sector held huge potentialities for Nigeria and Nigerians, if given the necessary attention and priority.
“The talk about the diversification of our economy is usually about agriculture and crude oil all the time; meanwhile, the main sector that would have liberated this country long ago, that is a certainty, is sports, especially football.
“It is amazing that countries like the UK, Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and the rest, depend to some extent on football, to develop their countries.
“Over the past five years, the business of sports has become a £20 billion-a-year industry in the UK, supporting some 450,000 jobs; that means that it contributes more to their economy than agriculture and oil combined.
“Nigeria is not doing same. We keep paying lip service to football, everything is being politicised.
“As such, first, our sports sector needs to be sanitised of corruption, and more importantly, investing in our sports sector to drive health, prosperity and development should be part of our nation-building strategy in Nigeria,” the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games football event gold medallist said.
Babayaro urged the Federal Government to provide an enabling environment to ensure a meaningful development of the sports sector.
According to him, privatisation of the sector is key to its development in Nigeria.
“Every single football club in Nigeria is government-owned; and at the end of the day, it is about politics, which is why the sports sector is not really performing.
“Government funds sports and no accountability, because people see government money as money to be wasted rather than to invest in sports in the country.
“And until the government takes a deliberate step of taking its hands off football and privatising it, then, it will bring about the desired development that we seek for.
“If you run the clubs as a private enterprise, we will record so much success; qualified and talented players will be recruited from the grassroots without the usual man-know-man syndrome.
“Expertise, accountability, discipline, dedication and even profit, will come to play,” the former Nigeria international said.
Babayaro said that sports could also be used to address the problems of kidnapping, terrorism, thuggery, armed robbery and other social vices confronting the nation.
“It is sickening to note that we have some of the best talents in the world, but we are not making good use of these talents. If the urchins are taken off the streets and we train them, they can be great assets to the nation.
“But if we do not do this, they are potential kidnappers, thugs, terrorists, armed robbers and so on.
“So, until we start understanding as a nation what sports, football especially can do for us, then will we start doing it right, ” Babayaro said.