• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Beyond the podium: Lessons from the 2023 African Games

Beyond the podium: Lessons from the 2023 African Games

The much-anticipated 13th African Games, hosted in Accra in 2023, have concluded after a wave of excitement. Formerly called the All-Africa Games and usually held every four years, notably before the Olympics, the African Games serve as a testament to Africa’s readiness and prowess in the global sports arena. This year, some 5000 athletes from over 52 countries competed in over 30 different sporting disciplines, an increase from the 2019 edition, which offered 26 games, and an even more substantial leap from the 2015 edition, which had 22 disciplines, making this an actual pan-Africa sporting extravaganza.

Spanning across three vibrant Ghanaian cities—Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi—the event saw Egypt emerge as the undisputed leader atop the medal standings, clinching a remarkable total of 192 medals. Right on their heels, Nigeria secured a commendable second place with 121 medals, while South Africa trailed closely with a total of 106.

Q: “In order for the Nigerian sports industry to become a genuine catalyst for economic advancement, substantial backing from private institutional investors is essential, along with government support.”

This victory for Egypt isn’t merely a stroke of luck; it is a testament to their unwavering dedication and strategic investment in sports. Nigeria boasts a wealth of exceptional talent, while Egypt’s sustained success underscores a deliberate commitment to nurturing and cultivating its athletes, ensuring a pipeline of excellence that extends across various sporting disciplines.

Source: Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA), 2024

The state of Nigeria’s sports industry

Nigeria celebrates a diverse sporting heritage encompassing football, basketball, athletics, boxing, and beyond. Renowned for nurturing top-tier athletes who perform exceptionally on the international stage, Nigeria’s rich sporting tapestry continues to captivate enthusiasts and stoke fervour for athletic endeavours, but its economic benefits have not yet lived up to their enormous potential.

The Nigerian sports industry faces a myriad of challenges that hinder its significant contribution to the overall GDP. These hurdles stem from various factors, including a deficiency in robust political commitment to enhance performance, inadequate investment, and deteriorating infrastructure, among other issues. The lack of adequate funding also impedes the implementation of grassroots programmes, talent identification schemes, and the provision of essential facilities and equipment. Consequently, promising athletes are deprived of the necessary support systems to nurture their potential, limiting Nigeria’s ability to produce world-class competitors.

Valuable insights from Egypt.

As the curtain fell on the 2023 edition, the perennial winner, Egypt, won their seventh title as Team Nigeria came in second for the sixth time. Curiously, the only time Nigeria won the tournament was in 2003, when she hosted the 8th edition of the event in Abuja.

Egypt’s impressive haul of 197 medals reflects the nation’s deliberate and strategic investment in sports infrastructure, accelerated talent development, early preparation with a strong commitment to high-performance training, and an unflinching approach to sports diplomacy and collaboration. Egypt creates a network of collaborations across different sporting units. For example, most of the football clubs in Egypt have their respective counterparts in other sporting disciplines. Al-Ahly, one of the most successful Egyptian clubs, had corresponding teams in basketball, handball, volleyball, tennis, and other disciplines. Similarly, Zamalek and Ismaili are other football giants who have corresponding teams in other sporting disciplines.

In a similar vein, all the athletes representing Egypt play in well-organised and structured leagues with a strong fan base, thereby explaining why they tend to be competitive and successful in major international tournaments. Nigeria can draw inspiration from this model, potentially propelling its journey to the pinnacle of sporting excellence in Africa and beyond.

Harnessing the potential of other sports for national development.

Despite Egypt’s commendable performance in various sports—tennis, swimming, judo, and karate—it is not a dismal showing by Nigerian contingents in our area of dominance—wrestling, weightlifting, and athletics. With a total of 350 athletes, Team Nigeria won medals in almost all 23 sports they participated in.

Digging deeper, the final medal table reflects the growing influence of women in sports. The Nigerian women’s contingent won a total of 71 medals, together with 1 gold and 2 bronze medals in mixed events. This surge in success for women’s sports signals a promising trajectory, as key figures in the field acknowledge the substantial yet untapped opportunities for growth. Analysts predict a substantial double-digit expansion of the sector within the upcoming 3 to 5 years, underscoring the increasing recognition and support for women’s athletic endeavours.

In order for the Nigerian sports industry to become a genuine catalyst for economic advancement, substantial backing from private institutional investors is essential, along with government support. This investment should be focused on initiatives such as enhancing infrastructure, fostering the growth of privately-funded clubs, and implementing new technologies to enhance the overall sporting experience.

This paradigm shift is needed, first to expand and diversify access for new crops of talents in emerging lucrative sporting disciplines, and secondly to switch to a long-term investment drive for the sustenance of those sectors.