Three years ago, a private initiative was conceived by eight sports promoters purely for the purpose of sports development in Edo state. The promoters who are from Edo state became trustees of Edo Sports Development Foundation (ESDF), a nonprofit organisation duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
Of course, there’s no way the promoters can run with the idea without formally briefing the Edo state government. It explains why ESDF has not been launched up till now. From experience, the proposed meeting between the state government and ESDF is expected to foster a win-win partnership for the benefit of the Edo people.
Edo Sports Development Foundation is an independent think-tank set up with the primary objective of promoting, enhancing, and accelerating the development of sports in Edo state. ESDF intends to work with distinguished members of the newly reconstituted board of the Edo state sports commission under the chairmanship of Yusuf Alli.
Through teamwork and the proposed partnership, we hope to revive sports so that Edo state will regain its pre-eminent position as the “home of sports” in Nigeria. As a keen lover of sports himself, we have no doubt that Philip Shaibu, the deputy governor who has oversight responsibility for sports, will welcome ESDF and support the initiative.
For full disclosure, I’m a trustee and chairman of the Edo Sports Development Foundation. The other members of the board/trustees are Tony Agenmonmen, Aisha Falode, Godwin Enakhena, Patrick Uwagbale, Ben Ijewele, Francis Orbih, and Kevin Erhuwhumnse.
Historically, Edo state, right from when it was part of the old Bendel State – which was split into Edo and Delta states – has been famous for producing notable sportsmen and women who excelled in different sporting events such as football, athletics, cycling, gymnastics, badminton, table tennis, and basketball winning laurels both at national and international competitions. We are keen to keep the winning spirit of the old Bendel state alive because wherever you go, you will find an abundance of talents in all the 18 local government areas of Edo state.
ESDF, as part of its mandate, is committed to bringing back the glory days of sports through a deliberate re-positioning strategy. For example, if we cast our mind back in time, transformational leader, late Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, military governor of Midwest state and later renamed Bendel state, made huge investments in sports infrastructure such as the famous Afuze Games Village and Ogbe Stadium. This explained why Bendel state was way ahead of other states in national sports competitions, producing champions who distinguished themselves in nearly all sports.
ESDF will attract funding through private sector collaboration, partnerships, crowdfunding, sponsorship, and access to grants. In addition, we shall explore the possibility of securing technical assistance from international organisations. Our game plan is to identify young talents in secondary schools and turn them into national champions and award winners in five major sports. ‘Catch ‘em young‘ is a popular call-to-action phrase in sports and it will be the overarching strategy of ESDF. Secondary school students – especially in the junior category — represent the best pool for talent development in sports.
As young students in Government College, Ughelli (GCU) many years ago, we were active in a variety of sports. If you were not identified with a sport, be ready to be called a “waste pipe”. I played football (I’m a leftie, lol) and table tennis as a young lad. It did not occur to us then that a footballer could earn as much as $300,000 a week playing football, in which case I may have opted for a professional career in Europe. We were lucky to have sports facilities in GCU that were in great shape and the annual inter-house sports competition brought out the best in all the competitors; winning medals was good but taking part was better.
When Nigerian Breweries launched the Maltina School Games two years ago, the brewing giant explained that the sports campaign was designed to promote the development of students through sports comprising a series of track and field sporting competitions held across Nigeria. Maltina School Games is a suitable platform for youth development in sports, rewarding students, athletes, teachers, and communities across Nigeria. Believe it or not, about 20 million students will be impacted in one way or the other through sports under Maltina sponsorship.
We are familiar with inter-school sports competitions to grow future sports champions at the secondary school level. With a similar objective in mind, EDSF will solicit sponsorship from the private sector amongst others, approaching organisations such as Nigerian Breweries. Globally, sport is a major PR tool for branding and destination marketing, attracting visitors and investors in droves. It will not be different in Edo state, the “heartbeat of the nation”. Sporting events attract spectators and create commercial opportunities that help to boost the local economy.
By the time you add the value of the brand equity gained from the accompanying media coverage and exposure, you will understand why sports — and entertainment — are usually leveraged in nation and city branding campaigns. The Ogbe Hard Court Tennis, for example, was one of the most important tennis tournaments (men and women) in the Nigerian tennis calendar, and until the last edition 14 years ago; it had grown to be on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Wouldn’t it be nice for the Edo state government, through the Edo State Sports Commission and private sector collaboration, to revive this important tournament, thereby putting Edo state and by extension, Nigeria, back into the mainstream of the international tennis circuit? The long-term ambition obviously would be to get the tournament back as an ATP Challenger Series. I’m aware that a consulting firm in Lagos has done significant work on the tournament, going as far as engaging the Nigeria Tennis Federation.
Still on the significance of destination marketing, the Paris-Dakar rally is a key brand asset for Senegal; Tour de France attracts millions of viewers and tourists globally putting France in the international limelight for about three weeks every year; Dubai has built a reputation for hosting the world’s richest horse racing competition (Dubai World Cup) while Monaco Grand Prix is one of the major brand assets of the location.
Wimbledon, Berlin Marathon, and Rio Carnival, etc are also strong elements of destination marketing. With a population of over 200 million in addition to being the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria is missing a great opportunity to represent the region with world-class events that will resonate in a big way amongst national and international audiences. Edo state can fill this void with a major sporting event and challenge Lagos state which hosts the Lagos marathon. It is evident that the marathon is perhaps the only annual sporting event in Nigeria gradually gaining popularity and building significant momentum.
Four years ago, our public relations and marketing management company, Neo Media & Marketing, working with Osaretin Emuzie, a sports journalist and cycling enthusiast and our associates in the UK led by Toju Ogbe, a global PR strategist, came up with the Edo Cycling Tour envisioned to become Africa’s response to Tour de France within five years.
It was conceptualised as a hybrid of sports and culture showcase that will generate both national and global fellowship. The three-day tour was designed to flag off from the scenic town of Ososo in Akoko Edo local government area, passing through Uzairue, Auchi, Ubiaja, Uromi, Ekpoma, Ehor and terminating in Benin City.
Ososo was planned as a backdrop for the event because it is one of the touristic places in Nigeria, located on a plateau with rocks and hills of different sizes and an average temperature similar to that of Jos in Plateau State.
The Ogbe Hard Court and Edo Cycling Tour are just two examples, indicative of what is possible in the area of “sporting revolution”. I have no doubt in my mind that the Edo State Sports Commission will take up these initiatives and more, and convert them into massive opportunities.
Ultimately, the goal will be to make Edo state an attractive investment destination through sports.
Braimah is the publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng) and chairman, Edo Sports Development Foundation