From the glorious days of the Roman empire, with its huge amphitheatres which were used for gladiatorial combats, animal slayings and executions among others, governments have realized the unifying power of sports as an agent of mass mobilisation and political stabilisation even in troubled times and periods of civil unrest.
The sporting sector is quite huge with enormous capacity to immensely contribute to the Gross Domestic product of any country. The potential of sports to generate employment through its value chain is quite vast.
It is in a bid to appropriately leverage on the power of sports that the Lagos State government has come up with quite a number of initiatives that could accelerate sports development in the state. The vehicle through which this is being achieved is T.H.E.S.E.; an acronym for Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and Sporting Excellence. Since assuming office, Governor Akinwumi Ambode has left no one in doubt, about his resolve to grow the Lagos economy and empower the youth through several alternative means which include the tactical promotion of tourism, entertainment and sports.
In order to accelerate sports development in the state, Lagos State Sports Commission was carved out of the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development with a mission to make Lagos, Africa’s sport hub within three years. This singular act has really helped to divorce sporting matters from all administrative bottle necks and bureaucracy.
The Sport Commission’s first priority was to stamp out age cheats from the state’s sporting circle. To this end, a policy to fast track progression of athletes of varied age grades in the state has been put in place. A database of all athletes in the state was created as a major step forward in this regard.
The state government is equally working hard to ensure upgrade of existing sporting infrastructure as well as construction of new ones. For instance, three astro turf facilities are being constructed in Festac, Ikeja and Surulere. There are plans to build a world class aquatic centre in Epe, which will include world class model swimming pools, as well as adjoining hospitality facilities by 2018. The project, when completed, will attract thousands of tourists annually, as well as create several short and long term jobs and potentially to generate significant revenue for the state. There is also an ongoing transformation of Onikan stadium as well as a major upgrade of the Teslim Balogun stadium. This is in addition to the construction of the Lagos Game Village. Presently, the state’s sporting infrastructure development project has created about 3,000 short and long term jobs across the state.
Grassroots sports development is also being given a huge boost by the state government. In 2016 for instance, the state government sponsored 35 grassroots sports competitions such as the Lagos State boxing individual open championship, Lagos International Squash Classic, Lagos Invitational Artistic Gymnastics championship, maiden edition of under- 17 Judo Slam, 3- day Closed Wrestling Championship, Lagos Triathlon Fiesta, Lagos Under-18 Fives Championship, 1st Lagos Secondary Schools’ Hockey League, Lagos Junior Golf Training/ Championship, Lagos T20 Cricket Tourney, 1st Lagos State Secondary Schools Traditional Sports Competitions and Governor Ambode 1st south west under- 18 Badminton Competition among others. Through these competitions, some new talents have been discovered.
In order to further reinforce its intention to develop sports in the state, the Ambode administration equally conceived and pioneered the now famous Lagos City Marathon. A total of 100, 000 athletes from 27 countries participated in the second edition of the Access Bank sponsored Lagos Marathon which held on February 11, 2017. The race which started from National Stadium, Surulere and terminated at Eko Atlantic City in Victoria Island was meant to showcase the excellence of Lagos to the world as well as encourage sporting activities among the people.
With a view to encouraging more young people to develop interest in sports, all of the state’s public schools are now mandated by government to organize annual inter house sports competitions. Aside its potential to discover new talents, it is equally meant to promote the culture of friendliness, keeping fit and unity among students across the schools.
This has further underscored the importance of sports to education. It goes without saying that Education and sports should be normally inseparable. In education, we have three domains – the cognitive, which deals with intellect; the affective, which deals with behaviour, attitude; and the psychomotor, which deals with sports. Thus when education is married with sports, it no doubt helps the overall development of the child.
One major sporting tradition that the Ambode administration has also kept alive is the Governor’s Cup Lagos Tennis Championship, with the 2017 edition particularly witnessing a great influx of international players. Though the competition predates the present administration, yet, it is being taken to a new level. According to the International Tennis Federation, 540 emerging world tennis players registered to participate in the pro circuit competition which lasted for two weeks at Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence. These international athletes converged on Lagos to fight for the $100,000 prize money and world ranking points in one of the highest Tennis pro circuit competitions. The Governor’s Cup Lagos Tennis Championship which enters the 17th edition in 2017 did not only witness an unprecedented heavy traffic, but raised the bar of the pro circuit competition to the level that it has now become a household name in the world of tennis.
Since it is a global reality that private participation in sports is indispensable to sports growth and development, the state government is doing all it can to promote private interest in sports. It is in line with this that Governor Ambode recently commended the MFM Football Club for returning the state to the CAF Champions League, 16 years after a club from the state last participated in the highly rated competition. The governor went ahead to put his money where his mouth is by giving N50 million to the club. (N25 million for players and officials and another N25 towards a hitch free CAF competition).
As the Ambode administration continues to provide the necessary impetus for sporting activities in the state, it is obvious that sports development is being given an entirely new momentum in the state. Hopefully, the newly gained thrust will not only endure but also yield the expected dividends.