By Salifu Usman, Abuja
The minister of youth and sports development, Mr Sunday Dare, has been urged to rethink his decision to evict all the businesses at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos.
Former chairman of SWAN, Lagos State chapter, Fred Edoreh and veteran sports broadcaster, Effiong Nyong, made call in a spate chats with LEADERSHIP Sports, described the eviction of thousands of businesses at the National Stadium, after several months of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic – mid-2020 – as a rude shock and too hard to bear, saying few of the victims have died in depression, while others have remained stranded and groaning in penury.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development had insisted that many of the structures were illegal, ramshackle and outside the original plan of the stadium, saying it was embarking on the cleanup and renovation of the facility, possibly to prepare it for concession.
But Edoreh argued that the spaces were allocated to the business owners and the structures and businesses approved by the stadium management and, in some cases, signed MoUs with the ministry’s directorate of facilities.
“On a rough estimate, the facility hosted about 5,000 businesses and jobs on which many anchored their livelihood for years. All got lost within a twinkle of an eye and many of the victims, unable to recover, are currently suffering untold hardship.
“A few are said to have died in depression. Some, not knowing where else to go, resorted to trading outside the stadium gates. Some have relocated to their villages, not having the means for another startup. Others have remained stranded and groaning in penury. The toll on their family life, marriage and children’s education can only be imagined,” Edoreh stated.
He said the minister may have been misinformed that the stadium is not a place for entertainment hangouts and sundry businesses, leading him to embark on a plan of restoration of the facility to its original design of the 1970s that made no provisions for businesses.
“The truth is that historical sports-specific designs of the early century stadiums have proven to be unprofitable. Stadiums that are not grounds for home clubs with weekly sports competitions and do not incorporate other businesses are largely unsustainable. Without adequate streams for generation of internal revenue, there is always the problem of raising needed funds for their maintenance and upgrade and this has been a challenge for the government with respect to the Lagos and Abuja national stadiums which are redundant year in year out. The consequence of this has been their progressive dilapidation through the decades.
“The new global approach to stadium design and management is to infuse a great deal of business platforms, especially hospitality and entertainment outlets. This is with a view to creating a partnership with the host population by providing them business and economic opportunities. Thus, stadiums now redefine social and commercial life in the neighborhoods that host them,” he said.
Veteran broadcaster and former chairman, Sports Editors Guild, Effiong Nyong, said the businesses contribute to the pool of revenue for the maintenance of the facility and create a sentimental, social and emotional connect between the population and the stadium by providing them extra attraction to the facility, besides sports.
According to him, sports in itself is not enough, the fun and entertainment that comes with it is what provides the satisfaction in such a way that going to the stadium becomes part of the people’s social and cultural life.
“Owners of the big stadiums in advanced countries have embraced this revolution to good effect by constituting their facilities into fun places to not only attract fans to their clubs but to also ensure they enjoy great experiences when they come.
“Many modern stadiums have luxury nite clubs that operate regularly, lounges that are rented for meetings and conferences through the week, fun zones for children and attendants who want more fun other than the games, exquisite bars and restaurants that have become go-to places for the city dwellers and tourists.
“This is why the eviction of businesses at the national stadium needs to be revisited. What, for instance, was wrong with the presence of sportswear and equipment shops at the stadium? What is wrong with thousands of people coming to recreate at the stadium runways either in the mornings or evenings, and thereafter sitting for a drink or dining with family and friends within the environment?
“Many of the recreational sports people come usually after work or when free at weekends and they do not constitute any form of nuisance. The Tennis section, for instance, had been maintained by a recreation club of mostly businessmen who only find time to play in the evenings and relax till about 10pm before going home. What is the point in displacing them?
“What was wrong with having joggers and aerobic sports practitioners using the ancillary parts of the stadium, especially in a society with a dearth of sporting facilities in the communities and inner cities for the recreation, health and wellness of the population?
“As we speak, breaking (break dancing) as a form of sports has been introduced into the Olympics as a scoring event, yet we have displaced the young men and women who engage in it from using the stadium, instead of encouraging and helping to organise them not only for the worth of the possibility of winning medals in it but also for supporting them into that emerging sports career,” Nyong said.
Nyong insisted that the business activities at the stadiums did not impede the smooth running of sports and blamed poor state of the stadiums on the inept administrators.
“It must be emphasized that the business activities in the stadiums have not impeded the smooth running of sports in any way, rather, they have complemented the sports sector by providing services and retaining the attraction to the stadium.
“The problem of our sports and the poor state of our stadiums are clearly to be located in administration, revenue generation, management and the effectiveness of our federations in sourcing funds for development and competitions. The ordinary people and their businesses have no hand in the fall,” he said.
LEADERSHIP Sports check also revealed that aside the thousands of businesses and jobs which the stadium hosted, it presented a huge weekly market place with the convergence of over 1,200,000 people for recreation sports at weekends. They train, unwind, drink, and buy and sell sportswears.