ACHIEVING NATIONAL UNITY AND DEVELOPMENT THROUGH SPORTS By Adekunle Oyedepo
I can't agree less with Franz Beckenbauer, a former German football manager who opined that "football is one of the world's best means of communication. It is impartial, apolitical and universal. Football unites people around the world every day. Young or old, players or fans, rich or poor, the game makes everyone equal. Stirs the imagination, makes the people happy and makes them sad."
Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria on Saturday 7 October, became the first country on the continent to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World in Russia, as the Super Eagles defeated the Chipolopolo of Zambia by a goal to nil. The Godswill Akpabio International stadium in Uyo, Akwa Ibom was filled to the brim as Nigerians of diverse tribes, religions, and regions gathered to cheer and lift the Eagles' spirit.
Last Saturday was indeed a memorable day for Nigeria and Nigerians as we all put off our differences and revelled across Nigeria. From Uyo to Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Onitsha, Aba, Ilorin and in every other part of the country; the feeling was the same. Our love for our country is always high whenever our national teams engage in competitions.
This has again proven that sports, particularly football serves as a critical tool to unite people irrespective of their differences. There are over 400 spoken languages in Nigeria, but whenever the Super Eagles play, we all speak one language - football. Without doubt, sport has the ability to unite people, promote love, unity, national cohesion and development. Sport has the ability to influence or force people to put aside their differences and grievances for the sake of their nation.
It is, however, sad to note that despite the recognition of sport as a proponent of unification and catalyst for peace building, Nigerian government at all levels have failed to invest in sports development as a critical component of youth and national development. Among the challenges affecting sports development in Nigeria is the lack of adequate sporting centres and facilities in most parts of the country. There is therefore, a need for governments to promote sports development by building or renovating sporting facilities across the country and begin to organize age-group competitions to stimulate sporting culture among young people.
This will also provide an avenue for the youths to showcase and nurture their talents, with which they can empower themselves. Moreover, participation of young people in sporting activities enhances their wellbeing and healthy living, which is essential towards national productivity - a healthy nation is a productive nation.
We must as a country, begin to prioritise sports development by putting in place effective and structured sports policies and programmes that will assist youths develop their skills and talents. Corporate bodies are also encouraged to support the governments in doing this. Indeed, sports has a tremendous impact on peace building, national unity and youth empowerment that will ultimately transcend to national development.
I would like to end this piece with the words of Nobel Laureate, Oscar Arias (former president of Costa Rica), in his brilliant write up published on Forbes.com that reads, "Football, and sport in general, represents an opportunity to build a better version of a world too often threatened by irrationality, intolerance, and violence. Like any opportunity, it only counts if we take advantage of it. As spectators and parents, educators and leaders, we must train our eyes to see not only spectacular goals, but also acts of sportsmanship - to point out to each other, and to our children, not only athletic prowess, but also solidarity and diversity.
"We must use this platform to unite rather than to divide. And we must carry these lessons of peace far beyond the final whistle, in the hopes that someday, the world's game will no longer be a rare shooting star in a dark night of conflict, but part of the dawn of a more rational age."