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Making our stadia self-sustaining

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Ayodele Okunfolami

SIR: Illegal structures numbering over a hundred within the National Stadium complex Lagos are being brought down following the expiration of an ultimatum to quit the premises by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, in order to give the multisport facility a facelift. A similar measure was taken earlier to identify for flushing, illegal occupants and structures at the Moshood Abiola Stadium Abuja currently undergoing a re-grassing in its main bowl by a private consortium.

Dare has since coming to office visited those complexes more than once and has shown enthusiasm on restoring them to their former glories. On the Abuja stadium, the minister stated that a contractor was already on hand for renovation whiles the committee he had set up to see to the modalities for the concession of the Lagos stadium has since submitted its report.

Instead of rendering stadium squatters without a source of livelihood in the name of refurbishing edifices that would return to their dilapidated conditions shortly after due to disuse or poor maintenance by poorly-paid incapable civil servants, the task before the sports minister should be to look for ways of directing sporting traffic towards these facilities. Because rehabilitating these stadia out of sentiments of “national pride” would only end up having another endless turn around maintenance like our refineries, National Theatre or Ajaokuta Steel Company in our hands.

The National stadia in Surulere and Abuja are both shadows of their original selves at the moment and fixing them for less than half a dozen events a year that won’t bring return on investment doesn’t make economic sense. Selling them now may alter the sporting purpose of these venues as the classic rent-seeking buyer, would for sake of profits, use the precious piece of real estate for more profiting ventures that may be more frequent like political rallies, musical concerts or religious crusades.

I’ll prefer the sports minister crafts a policy or act of parliament in similitude to the Petroleum Industry Bill that is meant to deregulate the petroleum industry, that will free administration and funding of professional sports in Nigeria from the hands of government at all levels. Entertainment has risen ahead of sports to be fiscally independent of any tier of government. With this, sports would not be taken as a social good tainted with politics but as a commercial good that improves the overall economy, creates employment and lifts people out of poverty.

Today, entertainment in Nigeria is a multibillion-naira industry operated entirely by private hands. The minister, like other Nigerians, should have noticed that the weekly comedy, music and reality shows hardly take place in those bureaucratically run government arenas. The same is likely to happen after millions have been spent on our stadiums in the name of “restoring past glory”. They would remain idle.

Financiers would be attracted when they are confident the running of sports is not coloured with politics of who administers it, where an event should take place or which particular player should make the team. When they are sure combat sports, athletic meets, table tennis prix and the like can hold as regularly as those entertainment shows and attract as much crowds and participants, investors would create franchises out of our sports.

When the sports industry as a whole is money-spinning, sporting actions will become recurrent and then there would be competitions for host venues. Investors would not only be eager to take over the existing facilities and build the malls and hotels of Dare’s dreams, they would be willing to build more state-of-the-art centres that will serve sporting and tourism purposes. It is then our stadiums can be self-sustaining. Thereafter the sports ministry can be saddled primarily with the development and funding of amateur sports and creating a level playing field for structurally lesser sports.

Moving forward, the government or anybody thinking of establishing sports facilities should reconsider putting all the different sports in one perimeter. Even Olympic hosts spread venues across the city. It is the multi-sport nature of those facilities being in one place that is making maintenance, and would eventually make the concession or sale, of our stadiums difficult.

  • Ayodele Okunfolami, Festac, Lagos.

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