By Juliet Alohan
Never in man’s history has the business of sport development and sports business been more entwined as they are in the 21st century.
From North Africa to Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, South America and a few other places, sports has become big business, with other continents, including huge swathes of Africa, yet to catch up with the rest of the world, as far as engagement in the money-spinning sports development and entrepreneurship sector are concerned.
One of the factors that has largely limited profits Africa gets from this sector is due to the interest of government in the sector which, though huge, is far from sustainable. Also, many governments on the continent lack the infrastructure and the technicalities needed to thrive in this sector.
Recently, many are setting up infrastructure and turning them over to private investors through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which has seen these partnerships transcend word of mouth, into wealth and employment creators and a means to get young people off the streets and into profitable ventures, helping them find a new lease of life.
In Nigeria, many governors have paid lip-service to sport development and sport entrepreneurship, but one who seems to have discovered the win-win nature of this venture, is Rivers State governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, who is not leaving any stone unturned in making the best of it.
Of all these sport, in Nigeria, football has proved to be a veritable tool to project young people into their dreams, into financial independence, out of crime, important to their immediate communities and countries.
During his guber campaign in 2015, Wike did promise that he would take sports in the state to dizzying heights and ensure that it remains so, even after he leaves office, because “besides enhancing good health and productivity, sports is also a great profession for youth with talents, as well as mechanism for empowerment,” he said.
Since his administration began, the governor has set about using sport as a means of empowerment for youths.
First off, the governor merged Dolphins and Sharks FC of Port Harcourt, to form Rivers United. Shortly after that, the new club gained on the place on the continent and has not done badly ever since.
Then, the state bid to host the African Wrestling Championship, slated for February, 2018. One milestone after another has been reached and surpassed.
Recently, the state administration decided to take its football development initiative to a different level, with the establishment of a Real Madrid Academy in the state, working in tandem with Interact Sports and Real Madrid Foundation.
As these events unfolded, many watched on in scepticism, wondering what to make of it. However, on September 20, 2017, these partners visited the Rivers State to further talks with the governor, to the amazement of nay sayers. But, when days ago, governor Wike visited Madrid to see things for himself, many who laughed it off when the idea was first mooted, began to rethink their initial cynicism.
While in Madrid, Wike met with officials of the club, the club’s play-maker Cristiano Ronaldo and the team’s skipper, Sergio Ramos, where further modalities were discussed with the partners. The governor also had the honour of touring the club’s training facility where he assured that the academy would be of international standard and would take into consideration the education of the children, while harnessing their talent and prepping them for greater opportunities in the world of football.
Clearly, the Wike-led government is not playing politics with the people; not with football and not with Real Madrid. Obviously, the setting up of a Real Madrid Academy would be a state development project, one which would place the state on the international football stage.
When the project is completed, Rivers would not only be the envy of Wike’s political opponents, but many would love to replicate the process in their states and elsewhere.
At a time when some governors are failing to take developmental initiatives and struggling to prove themselves worthy of administering their states, Wike, through this initiative, is bringing to Rivers State an academy to transform her fortune, expose the youths to the fundamentals of professionalism, discipline and develop their future.
Beyond being commendable, this move would stand the test of time and attract economic growth to the state. The move would provide jobs, right from its planning stages, especially for architects, surveyors, construction workers, petty traders, food vendors and many others around the locality.
Upon completion, the academy, besides needing ground staff, would need cleaners, doctors, physiotherapists, physical and health education professionals, tacticians, educators, goal keeper trainers, agents, groundsmen, gardeners etc. The academy would give children in the state the opportunity to explore informal education and provide an escape for young people from the streets and lives of crime.
The young people would get the opportunity to play for foreign clubs, given the affiliation to Real Madrid and, by extension, Nigeria. When they go professional, they could be scouted for national team coaches and others responsible for getting talent for the national teams.
Seeing as the academy is affiliated to the prestigious Spanish club, it is only a matter of time before scouts from all over the world swoop on Rivers to cart away its many talents on offering. Mind you, this would be long after Wike has done his part and left office.
But posterity will remember such a one and his name would hardly be missing from the people’s lips. He would be remembered, not only as the one who brought such a unifying project to the state which has known its share of troubles, but as the man who gave the state and her young people a win-win situation.
Alohan writes in from Abuja.