Full Text of Address by the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Sunday Dare at the Football Business Forum in Ibadan

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Let me most sincerely welcome you all to this Football Business Forum organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to chart a business model for the growth of our football.

I wish to honestly state that it is not a coincidence that we are gathered here today at the Ilaji Sports Resort to discuss a critical issue in our country’s football odyssey.

When I visited this place few weeks ago, I was enthralled by the magnitude of investment an individual has put into sports development and decided we should hold this event here due to inherent lessons to be taken away about private public partnership. I had commended Engineer Dorun Sanusi, who set up this place that while his investment is commendable, it may not yield immediate results. He, like the owner of Remo Stars Football Club, Honourable Kunle Soname, Alhaji Gafar of the 36 Lions Academy and others have taken the bull by the horns by investing in the future today for the growth of our football.
The problems militating against the development of our football are legion, but should not deter us from our mission and vision of getting it right. We must thank President Muhammadu Buhari for approving the re-classification of Sports as Business thereby paving the way for a reviewed National Sports Industry Policy.

The designation of Sports from mere recreation to business, which is the final stage of assent is not only noble, but quite revolutionary and a good pedestal to anchor our sports Development. The reviewed National Sports Industry Policy soon to be unfolded will have as it core a business model similar to what we have in other climes that will drive sports as business. Every Sport is expected to benefit from this new regime, particularly football.

For any policy to make a difference there must be condition (s) precedent. Hence, we are gathered today to examine the critical condition of Nigeria’s football development and put forward actionable steps. Today, we must jettison the idea that merely winning a match, securing qualifications to participate in International competitions and some stability on the FIFA rating is all we need to regard as our football development as sound. It goes beyond this. Much more is needed to make our football ecosystem more attractive to investors and scouts:
– The efficient administration of our Professional league – viz enforcement of a robust regime of financial and club licensing regulations et al
– The financial stability of the Clubs
– The Welfare Programme of the Clubs
– The Youth Football Development plan of the both the NFF and the Club
– The state Football Infrastructure
– Football Content
– Development of an Academy System for football and Sports Development
– Transparent and Sustainable Sponsorship Model
– A Football calendar that is reliable

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Therefore, this event can not be a mere talk shop, but one to bring enduring legacy for our football. Interestingly, we have people who have played dominant roles over the years and are still actively involved. We must go beyond our recent football successes to chart a new path of turning our football into business.

Sports is a big business with potentials to create jobs, arrest social vices, generate revenue and contribute to the country’s GDP if properly harnessed.
Despite the economic stagnation created by the effect of COVID-19, world football Governing body FIFA’s revenue projection remains at $6.44 billion. Coming at a time when European clubs recorded a loss of € 1 billion, this is astronomical.

In spite of Nigeria’s rich football culture, we have not started tapping this gold mine. While majority of clubs are government owned, poor remuneration, lack of structures, absence of financial base remain impediments to growth. Most so called professional clubs remain mere appendages of Government sustained either for political patronage, social mobilization or just mere social service.

While hoping that certain proposed changes which I have envisioned would begin to yield fruits, it’s still a long shot. While European clubs are also adversely affected by the meltdown due to the pandemic, these clubs are still solvent due to their super structures, probity, accountability and existence of business modules that endure.

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Manchester United just signeda whopping £235M shirt sponsorship deal. Where are our Nigerian clubs? What can we do to change the tide? Are we ready to change the narrative? Would the story change and can we re write history.

Some fifteen months ago, at the Annual General Assembly of NFF in Benin City, Edo State, told stakeholders of the once beautiful game in Nigeria, that it would be delusional to say everything is right with our football. Previous for a like this have been too ordinary and simply accepting what the federation thinks it has done. But like a cancerous wound, the things that ail our football keep festering so much so, our football was in coma. Efforts at addressing the problem have been slow hence the need to address them heads on.

The crux of this gathering thus is finding out how we can grow this game to be in sync with what we have in other football-loving nations. The past months have seen great brought initiatives into the game of football: sponsorships, a robust domestic league and a promising football atmosphere. But we are yet to amply demonstrate the sustainability of these even though they are sustainable. What are the reasons? They are not far-fetched.

In Benin City, my message was that “No country’s football can grow without a predictable and credible FOOTBALL CALENDAR that is binding on everyone. The essence of having a football calendar is to ensure that the corporate world can plan with it. No blue-chip firm operates based on hunches. Everything is planned with dates and milestones. No company will wait for NFF to wake up from its sleep to include them in their plans. Do not forget that firms use the public’s money for business. Such firms will only do business with organizations that are accountable not the ones bugged in controversies. If we must tell ourselves the truth ACCOUNTABLITY is the soul of any business concern.

I revisited what was said at the AGA in Benin City because it speaks to what we need to do to make our football attractive to investors. In this regard, we are not talking about just the usual sponsorship and endorsement deals. What we are looking at is the entire value chain that will benefit from football in Nigeria evolving to a stage where it inspires confidence that will make investors commit resources to its development.

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Let me give a new charge to the managers of Nigeria’s football fortunes, the NFF- The Federation must present to Nigeria A football development master plan (at all levels-youth, amateur, professional, women football) before the end of this year 2021 with specific models and timelines, program of action and expected outcomes. This must be done against the backdrop of the mindset that for football to become business and attract the necessary investments there must be a structure in place that is at par or strives to be at par with what we see elsewhere. The casual, cavalier approach to our football development by the NFF must change at all levels. In tandem with FG’s plan to deliver a new policy of sports as business, government will demand more coherent and consistent plans, initiatives and programmes from not just the NFF but other federations. The table talk time is over. It is time to shake the table towards identifying and exiting those who hold or have held the growth and development of our football by the jugular.

Without taking the sail off this event, I believe you will chart a new pathway for our football Development. Be rest assured that whatever recommendations from this gathering of eminent people would not be swept under the carpet or thrown into the thrash can. I wish you fruitful deliberations.

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