During a popular radio programme, recently, a certain Mr Damian Okoro highlighted the nation's inability to develop sports other than football. Desperate for honours, Okoro and some others had sponsored themselves to a weightlifting competition in Lagos from Suleja, Niger State, because the state government declined to facilitate their participation.
By the time they got to Lagos, they had been sapped of the energies required to lift weight and their aspirations met a waterloo against formidable, well-fed and motivated competitors from other states.
Football is given prominence over all other games because it enjoys large followership across the world. But soccer is not the only game that enjoys large followership. Americans, for instance, are not known to be great soccer fans. They prefer their basketball and hunky baseball players. Austrians love hockey; Sri Lankans and Australians adore their cricketers. In New Zealand, rugby attracts more spectators than swimming that has the largest number of athletes.
Our government should endeavour to develop other sports and give the players equal rights to excel at the competitive level. We have talent in almost all these sports, but the talent is allowed to wane by lack of proper nurturing and provision of incentives and the enabling environment for it to flower.
A good number of potential stars that would have become world-class professionals have been through this neglect made to dissipate their talent in anti-social vices. The nation stands to benefit more and reduce crimes. It is sad that when we talk of poverty reduction, our leaders do not look in the direction of sports.
If not for football, not many would have known the like of Rasidi Yekini, Austin JJ Okocha and now Sunday Mba. Fortuitous circumstances have thrown them up as heroes in the country in spite of their limited education and exposure. It is through scholarships provided for the like of Mary Onyali, a track and field Olympic icon, and Akeem Olajuwon, a basketball star, among others, that gave them their breaks in life.
Encouragement of other sports would therefore increase the prospect of more foreign earnings for Nigerians youths. If Yakubu Aiyegbeni of Guangzhou in China whose daily pay is N3.6 million or N12bn annually, and John Mikel Obi of Chelsea, in England, earns N2.8 million daily and grosses N965m annually, we can glean the multiplier effects if younger Nigerians had their kind of exposure.
When they come to re-invest in the nation's economy, there is bound to accelerated development, employment and political stability. We have untapped talent from other games who would be inspired to be like former Eagles skipper Kanu Nwankwo, who is now investing N5bn in providing a cardiac hospital in Abuja.
Tiger Woods has been the world's best paid athlete since 2001 and he is golfer. Because little attention is paid to other sports and that's why not many don't know that Nigeria is currently in Kenya slugging it out with other nations in a cricket championship. The team has lost the two matches played so far.
Other states must emulate the Lagos example by investing in grassroots sports such as inter-house sports, club matches and local competitions in other sports to discover raw talent that could be groomed to be world beaters and who will give us honours like our soccer stars. It is a better way to fight crimes, take restless youths off the streets and conquer poverty.