President Goodluck Jonathan said on Monday that his administration was committed to Nigeria becoming the best sporting nation in Africa, top four in the Commonwealth and ultimately rule the world.
Jonathan spoke at the opening of a Presidential Sports Sector Retreat held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said the vision was realistic and achievable with hard work, greater sense of purpose and dedication.
The president noted the importance of sports as a source of joy to people, a unifying and mobilising factor and a source of revenue generation.
He charged participants at the retreat to brainstorm and strategise on how to reclaim the country’s past sporting glory.
“There is no gain saying that apart from its obvious benefits in bringing joy to our citizens, especially when our teams do well, no other sector of our national life has a greater force for mobilising and uniting our people around a common purpose, than sports.
“I remember vividly as a vice-president when we were to host one team that did well and the Chief of Staff then, Gen. Abdullahi, was emphasising that we must receive these people very well because it only sport and especially when we are winning that Muslims and Christians don’t know the difference between themselves.
“They sing the same songs, dance the same steps and we must encourage sporting activities in this country,” he said.
The president said the country could not overlook the relevance of sports to national development and well being.
He described sports as a viable socio-economic tool for youth development, nation building and for instilling core value of social justice.
Jonathan recalled the superlative performance of Nigerian athletes at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics in particular the performances of Chioma Ajunwa who won the first Gold medal for Nigeria and the Dream Team led by Kanu Nwankwo.
He noted, however, that the successes recorded had been waning over the years and that there was the need to retrace Nigeria’s sporting steps.
“This retreat is timely, given the recent disappointing performance of Team Nigeria at the 2012 Olympics in London and our recent lows in football competitions among others.
“This unacceptable trend points to systemic failures that urgently call for a drastic and holistic review of our sports policies,” he said.
The president noted that the retreat was not designed to apportion blames or point accusing fingers, but to find solutions and design a framework for achieving national sporting excellence.
Jonathan tasked states governors to identify potentials where they have comparative advantages in sporting event for development.
He also called on the private sector to devise means of supporting sporting activities.
Earlier, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the objective of the retreat was among others, to evolve initiatives for further development of the sports sector over the next one to three years.
She noted that regaining the nation’s glory in sports was imperative, considering the importance of the sector to national development.
Okonjo-Iweala said apart from a unifying factor, sports is a big business and a tool for job creation.
She illustrated the claim with a UK example where in 2008 consumers in England spent about 17.4 billion Pounds on sports-related activities which she said represented about 1.5% of the country’s GDP.
The minister said, compared to Nigeria, sports, recreation and entertainment activities represented only about 0.25% of the GDP.
“In England, about 440,000 people are employed in sports-related jobs. This is 1.8% of all employment in England, with three quarters of these jobs in the private sector.
“At the London Olympics, the UK won a total of 65 medals and given the funds invested, we estimate that each medal won cost about 4.8 million pounds or N1.2 billion,” she said.
She identified funding, governance and management challenges as factors hindering the development of sports in Nigeria.
The minister noted that greater transparency was needed in the management of funds allocated to the sports sector.
She said the handlers of various sports federations in the country should also strive to meet up with international best practices.
“Until we fix some of these fundamental institutional problems, all the money we put into the sector would have only limited impact,” she added.
Okonjo-Iweala said that the president had asked for an urgent renovation of the Abuja National Stadium currently in a state of disrepair.
She added that as part of sustainable framework for financing the sports sector, government would explore the national lottery and additional taxes on luxury goods as obtainable in other countries.
Present at the retreat were Vice-President Namadi Sambo, states governors and stakeholders from the public and private sectors.