Sports is as old as mankind. The history of sports dates back to the ancient world when the physical activities that have metamorphosed into sports started out as dance and performances meant for cultural festivals and community entertainment .Back then, what have become known as organized sports were used to train youths for hunting and warfare, prove physical fitness and virility, and to integrate everyone into communal development and also to foster teamwork.
Nigeria has long been known as a sporting nation on the global stage. Nigeria’s participation in international sports was first noted in the 1950s.She had her first appearance in the Helsinki, Finland, Olympic Games in 1952 and recorded her first medal victory on the international stage in 1954, when Emmanuel lfeajuna won a gold medal in the high jump at the Commonwealth Games held in Cardiff, Wales.
Since then, Nigeria has made her mark in global Sports Competitions. Her National football team, the Super Eagles, are adjudged one of the strongest in Africa and one of the best in the world. Not only is has Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations three times, she has won the FIFA Under-16 World Cup multiple times. She first won it in China back in 1985 and came second in the same category two years later in Canada.
There is no denying the fact that, over the years, sports has become a veritable tool of livelihood and an agent of change that bound people together irrespective of individual differences. As a matter of fact, a popular joke in Nigeria says that whenever a national team takes to the pitch, Nigerians promptly forget religious, tribal and other differences to unite behind their team. That is why one of my bosses often says that sports is one of the few things that keep Nigerians together. He is wont to say, “When it comes to football, everyone keeps their differences.”
While it is a fact that sports serves recreational purposes, it has also become a veritable meal ticket for athletes and sportsmen and women. Today, there are athletes that earn six figure wages and have become immensely rich pursuing their passion and vocation. Ever wondered why most sports venues are jam-packed? It is because most people are attracted to one sporting event or the other, and often spend time talking about sports, particularly football.
Joseph (2006) posited that “Not just in the United States, but worldwide, sports is a major parts of all societies and cultures, sports like business, education, socializing and war, are part of the real world.”
The above must have informed the attention paid to sports and sports development by governments at various levels. Here in Ondo State, the government under the leadership of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, the talk and do Governor, understands this well as demonstrated through its numerous efforts on youth’s development through sports.
One can vividly recollect Aketi’s inauguration of a golf tournament held at the modern course of Smoking Hills and Resorts in Ilaramokin. Speaking at the flag – off of the tournament, Governor Akeredolu said sports would be meaningfully and purposefully used to develop the state, especially the younger generation in his second term.
Mr. Governor stressed that his administration has achieved a lot in terms of building landmark infrastructural projects which have changed the architectural landscape and the economic development of the state, but now other sectors such as sports, will get more attention. And true to his words, our dear governor has been working in this direction.
The laudable steps of the Governor in boosting sports development in the state was recently jolted when the State Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Otunba Dele Ologunloluwa, dropped what many considered a bombshell that efforts were in top gear for the sale of Sunshine Stars Football Club.The ripples generated by the announcement has been widening ever since as it sent shock waves down the spines of lovers of the round leather game and fans and supporters of the club as well.
Many were aghast wondering why the sale is being considered at a time that the team are getting things right for the first time in a long while. They wondered why it is coming at a time that stakeholders and football lovers in the state are full of optimism that the club’s fortunes are rising from the doldrums. The club currently occupy the fifth(5th) position on the Nigeria Premier League table. The feat is surely due to the astute management of handlers of the team under the supervision of the Commissioner for Youth and Sports.
The supervision has ensured that the monster of unruly fans and hooliganism has been tamed and reduced to the barest minimum, just as home matches of the club regularly records a full house with the Akure Stadium filled to the rafters. So alluring has Sunshine Stars’ home ground become that clubs from neighboring states such as Kwara United Football Club now have Akure stadium as their home playground.
We must not forget that the game of football has grown to a prominent position and become a lucrative gold mine for many. It has been widely credited with breaking cultural and religious differences among tribesand states, thus the game of football empowers the youths as well as promotes a positive outlook for the state and nation.
We must avoid killer sentiments capable of snuffing life out of the beautiful game in Ondo State as Sunshine Stars FC are poised to represent Nigeria in a Continental tournaments at the end of this season. Therefore, all hands must be on deck in moving the game of football forward in the State.
Ayodele is Media Director, Ondo State football Agency. He contributes this piece from Akure.