From the story of how both the Biafran and Nigerian soldiers ceased fire just to listen to the live commentary of a football match between Nigerian Green Eagles and Santos of Brazil in the heat of the war in 1969 to how renowned South African leader, Nelson Mandela, adopted “the secret power of sports”…Odegbami’s presentation conveyed a strong message of sports as a tool of unity…
I grew up hearing about his exploits in the world of soccer. Even before I could read and write, I had known his name. Segun Odegbami, a Nigerian ex-footballer, is a man who many of us loved to be named after whenever we gather to play soccer.
Though some of us were not born or were too young when Odegbami played his last match in 1984, from the stories we heard, he was as a football idol who had written his name in the sands of time by being one of Nigeria’s best footballers, ever.
Of course, this article is so much about Odegbami, his fame or exploits in the world of soccer, nor is it a eulogy dedicated to the great soccer star who was famous for his accurate crosses and dexterous running down the touchline with the ball as a right winger.
It is not about his 46 national caps and 23 goals. Or an autobiography of Odegbami, a seasoned sports administrator, author and educationist, who, in his little way, has tested and found out the secret power of sports.
It is, however, about the strong message in his super presentation that got a deserved standing ovation at the latest edition of The Platform 2017 held in Lagos on October 2. Titled, “With Sport We Can Change Nigeria”, the crux and depth of Odegbami’s presentation is worth re-echoing as it addressed so many issues, while proffering pragmatic solutions to them through the framework of the development of the sports sector.
In very simple language devoid of ambiguity, Odegbami drew Nigeria’s attention to the huge potential in sport and how its subtle power could be deployed to promote health and well-being, national unity, educational development, job creation, poverty reduction, infrastructural development and wealth creation.
Using concrete examples with strong moral lessons, Odegbami reminded Nigerians of how sport could be a unifying force, blurring every line of division in our much polarised country, Nigeria.
From the story of how both the Biafran and Nigerian soldiers ceased fire just to listen to the live commentary of a football match between Nigerian Green Eagles and Santos of Brazil in the heat of the war in 1969 to how renown South African leader, Nelson Mandela, adopted “the secret power of sports” as a tool for reconciliation and nation building, Odegbami’s presentation conveyed a strong message of sports as a tool of unity in a time when religious, regional, and ethnic divides were pushing Nigeria towards implosion.
Beyond promoting national unity and using sport to engage youth to prevent them from channeling their energy, skills, talents into crimes and violence, and beyond its few minutes or hours of entertainment or adopting sport as mechanism for driving school enrolments, are its enormous potentials, which smart countries can tap into.
Watching Odegbami’s presentation made me wonder whether there is any other moment that Nigerians joyfully crawl out of their religions, regional and ethnic enclaves, to unite as one regardless of our diversities, other than when our Super Eagles are on the pitch of play.
It also brought back memories of how we hit the streets – in all the hues of the Nigerian rainbow – in celebration of the Super Eagles’ victory in Atlanta 1996, not minding who was a Christian, a Muslim or an atheist. Every victory in sport unites Nigerians, just as the failure of our teams joins together in ‘grief’ and sober contemplations, regardless of faith or local origin.
But, that’s not all that sport can do in Nigeria.
Beyond promoting national unity and using sport to engage youth to prevent them from channeling their energy, skills, talents into crimes and violence, and beyond its few minutes or hours of entertainment or adopting sport as mechanism for driving school enrolments, are its enormous potentials, which smart countries can tap into. As Odegbami laid it out, sports is very big business that would not only create individual and national wealth, but also one capable of fostering regional integration, facilitating the development of physical infrastructure and aiding the goals of pan-Africanism, thereby bringing the dreams of our national, and continental founding fathers to a reality.
The Telegraph’s Andre Cave in 2015, reported that “Over the past five years, the business of sport has become a £20bn-a-year industry in the UK, supporting some 450,000 jobs.” Likewise, A study in 2015, titled “The contribution of sport to economic growth and employment in Europe” revealed that, “The sport sector accounts for 1,76% of the European Gross Value Added (GVA = Gross Domestic Product + subsidies – (direct, sales) taxes), that means that it contributes more to the economy than agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined”.
Although it might take a while to get our sport’s sector to become as viable as that of Europe, that we have seen many Nigerians and their families become liberated from the shackles of want and become rich and famour through sports, should make us appreciate its huge potentials that hold a lot for Nigeria and Nigerians if given the necessary attention and priority.
As such, first, our sport sector needs to be sanitised of corruption, the hydra-headed monster, that made the 2003 Comite d’Organization des jeux Africaine (COJA)/ All-Africa games a grand fraud as lamented by Odegbami. More importantly, investing in our sports sector to drive health, prosperity and development should be part of our nation building strategy in Nigeria.
Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja.