Delta, Nigerian sports and Mayweather

For the fourth time in seven years Mayweather leads the log as the highest paid athlete. This year alone, he earned $285 million

Ken Ugbechie

Away with politics and its diabolical darts. No lamentation on the insecurity that has consumed both the armed military and the unarmed helpless civilians. This day, I won’t mourn the manifest incompetence of the Buhari government that has put more Nigerians out of job. I won’t even sing a dirge on this terrifying graveyard of the nation’s comatose economy. Rather, I will sing a melody to the triumph of sports.

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Yes, sports is life. Sports is also money, big money. And fame. Sports is love. It is the reason the world still speaks the language of One World. It is a unifier, an aggregator of our individual differences into a common bond. Above all, sports is business, yes, real business.

In sports and through sports ordinary people have transformed to extraordinary persons; the very poor have become wealthy. The despairing have found hope. And I recall here the likes of Floyd Mayweather,  Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo among others. They were largely unknown quantities. They and most of their ilk in the Forbes 2018 top earners in global sports were yesterday’s inconsequential fellows. There was no herald at their birth; no buntings at their plume. Just ordinary folks stomping bare earth in typical kindergarten fashion.

From the status of a high school dropout, Mayweather has boxed his way to fame and fortune. The American ‘Pretty Boy Money’, ever showy and full of showmanship, is the highest paid athlete in 2018 according to Forbes. For the fourth time in seven years Mayweather leads the log as the highest paid athlete. This year alone, he earned $285 million, broken down to $275 million from his August one-night fight with UFC superstar Conor McGregor: a fight that grossed over $550 million in revenue.

He is followed by Lionel Messi on the top earners’ chart. Messi was born with a heath defect (growth hormone challenge) which could have consigned him to the infamous list of nonentities; but he was nursed and nurtured by good medicare. Today, he is one of the best footballers in the world. And he is the second highest earner this year with $111 million including $27 million earned through endorsements with Gatorade, Adidas, Huawei and Pepsi.

Messi is closely followed by his greatest rival Cristiano Ronaldo with $108 million earnings. Each time you see Ronaldo play football, just remember he was one guy fated to live. His mother, Dolores, once confessed that she almost aborted Ronaldo in the early weeks of her pregnancy especially at that time when Ronaldo’s father was neck deep in alcoholism and the family was racing against the tide of good life. But today the same Ronaldo who would have been flushed down the pit has become a man of influence and affluence.

Indeed sports is life. And it pays. It pays in America, in Brazil, in South Africa and in Europe. It should pay in the rest of Africa especially Nigeria. But it is not; at least not as you would expect. History has shown that every nation that has developed any sport from a hubby to a business always reaped bountiful benefits. Indians are making money from cricket; Americans make the haul from basketball, baseball, wrestling and rugby among other sports. Brazilians are all over Europe playing good football and making remittances home in millions of dollars every year. Check these nations. In all the sports where they have competitive advantage, their respective governments have partnered with the private sector to create a nursery where champions are birthed.

It is in this context that I commend the Ministry of Sports for sustaining the National Sports Festival; an annual sports rendezvous that has over the years helped to discover young talents in the nation’s sports firmament.  This year, the festival held in Abuja. It was a contest of experience and youth, of talent and gusto. At the end, Delta State bested all the states with an incredible haul of 351 medals made up of 163 gold, 87 silver and 101 bronze.  Rivers State placed second with 69 gold, 58 silver and 66 bronze. Yet, in the same festival states like Gombe, Borno, Ekiti, Zamfara, Adamawa, Taraba, Sokoto and Ebonyi had no gold medal to show for their participation. They were restricted to a few silver and bronze medals. This is unacceptable. The poor performance of these states is an attestation to the premium placed on sports by their respective governments. Yet, sports has proven a reliable pathway not just to poverty alleviation and extermination but to total-man development.

Is it not a shame that the total gold haul of 30 states is not up to the gold haul of Delta State alone. Are we not worried that in a nation ranked as the poverty capital of the world with more people slipping into the poverty pit at dizzying speed, sports development is not given a priority?

The latest statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the number of unemployed Nigerians has jumped from 17.6 million to 20.9 million. This means that one out of every 10 Nigerians is unemployed. This does not include the huge crowd of underemployed Nigerians (those who are barely tolerating their jobs because they have no better option). Yet, we neglect an industry that could give real spur to job creation and wealth creation. An industry that could create genuine millionaires and iconic role models.

One of the harsh facts from the National Sports Festival is that some states could not sponsor their athletes. Shame! But governors of these states are never short of cash to engage in endless jamborees and needless overseas trips that serve no good.

The best way to make a Mayweather, Messi, Ronaldo, Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha out of Nigeria’s youth bulge is to create oasis of sports development centres and events the likes of the National Sports Festival. It is sad that many states and their governors neglect this.

But no matter, we should not for the negligence and lack of foresight of some governors and states deny Delta State their right to celebrate. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa should oblige his colleagues at the Governors’ Forum his recipe and template. It is a working formula and deserves to be replicated across the nation.

The gulf between Delta State and the other states at this year’s sports festival deserves further inquiry. Is there something Okowa is doing in Delta that other governors need to learn in the area of sports development? I wager there is. Other governors should simply drop their bloated sacks of ego and under-study the Delta recipe. Who knows, it might just be one way to make a Messi and a Mayweather out of our self-inflicted unemployment mess.

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The post Delta, Nigerian sports and Mayweather appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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