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Sports Minister: New media have effectively redefined the boundaries of inclusion




Sports Minister
BOLAJI ABDULLAHI, Minister of Sports and Chairman, National Sports Commission (NSC) (in picture) says that, “The relationship between the global culture and the media on the one hand, and media and sport on the other is quite interesting as it is complex. The global culture creates the new media and the new media in turn drive the global culture; and the two combine, propelled by the logic of the mass market and consumerism to repackage sports as a commodity, delivered to the market through the satellite television, the internet and internet based channels, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.”

I feel highly honored and excited to be invited to this august occasion to speak on two issues that I am particularly passionate about, Media and Sports Development. My excitement, to be honest, is not just because I have been asked to engage issues which are related to my career as a journalist and present job as Minister of Sports, but also because this talk has afforded me the opportunity to return home to alma mater.

As an alumnus of this great University, it is always a pleasure to come back, to drive through this same campus, which I walked as student many years ago. It is my pleasure too to meet and mix with the students who, like me some twenty years back, are hopeful of a better future. The memories Akoka evokes in me are always pleasant, and I like to seize every opportunity to come back here to say THANK YOU. I am sure that I would not have become the person I am today if fate had not brought me here. I owe my development and progress in life largely to the education I received in the four walls of this campus.

I therefore wish to thank organizers of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations for providing the opportunity for this homecoming. I also wish to thank the management and staff for their eagerness to receive and host me.

Media and sports are now so intricately connected that it has become impossible to speak of one without the other. But in a general sense, that relationship is not in any way peculiar. The media have grown so phenomenally in the last decade or so that they affect virtually every area of human life and almost everyone is now a media practitioner of sort.

The so-called new media have effectively redefined the boundaries of inclusion as bloggers and twips stand poised with their laptops and blackberries ready to break the news or post new videos on the internet. All these are part of the new global culture that people like us trained in the conventional media practice would continue to find quite challenging, if not traumatizing.

The relationship between the global culture and the media on the one hand, and media and sport on the other is quite interesting as it is complex. The global culture creates the new media and the new media in turn drive the global culture; and the two combine, propelled by the logic of the mass market and consumerism to repackage sports as a commodity, delivered to the market through the satellite television, the internet and internet based channels, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Sport has therefore become big business accompanied by the glamour and the glitz, hugely amplified in a way that only these new media can. Every year, the money spent on various sporting activities across the world runs into billions of dollars. To host the Olympic Games, it is estimated that Great Britain invested between $4.5bn to nearly $15bn. We now have professional sportsmen in a true sense of the word – men and women, who do not just make a living through sports, but have become global brands. Sports icons like Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Diddier Drogba, Nwakwo Kanu and the William sisters are people we have never met before and would probably never meet, but we all can recognize and we actually feel we know them.

The translation of these young men and women into global icons could not have happened without the media that have delivered their extra-ordinary talents to our living rooms and even our mobile phones.

Today, the English Premiership is followed passionately by Nigerians of all classes. It is common to hear a fan in Ojuelegba who probably has not travelled out of Lagos boast about ‘his’ Club Chelsea. He is ready to fight, and indeed sometimes do fight, to defend the reputation of the ‘Blues’. The truth is, even though this die-hard Chelsea fan has no physical relationship with the club, no one can fault his emotional attachment and love for the Blues. This same scenario is replicated with almost all the English Premiership Clubs and for the big teams in Europe. Our people have adopted these teams as their own; spend considerable sums on jerseys and other paraphernalia of the teams; some even sacrificed cows to supplicate for their club’s success before a major game, even though they live thousands of kilometers away from the cities where these teams are domiciled. This is the power of the media.

Television has played huge roles in the particular success of the English Premiership. When the EPL started in 1992, one of the major decisions, which was considered radical at that time, was the plan to sell the TV rights to a pay-per-view television, BSkyB. The decision was considered radical because at that time, pay television was not very popular in the UK market, neither was the trend of charging fees for fans to watch live televised football. However, this has turned out to be a very prudent decision and one of the main reasons for the success of the Premiership.

It worked this way: the money derived from the EPL being shown on pay per view TV was re-invested in the clubs, in the form of huge grants. The clubs in turn use the funds to buy quality players from anywhere in the world where they could be found, and with better players, the quality of the league improved considerable. This has in turn made it more attractive for people to want to pay to watch the EPL, and more money for the clubs.

To understand how vital the media is to sports development, one must imagine what sports would be today without the media. Let us imagine for a moment that for the next El- Clasico match between football giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, at the evocative arena Santiago Bernabéu, and other subsequent matches to be played against other clubs in the Spanish La-Liga this season, the management of the two clubs decide to shun the global media that has turned them into global brands and opt instead, to announce the match via a small sign post placed at the stadium’s entrance. We can imagine the immediate consequence of such a decision.

One, there will be a sharp drop in revenue from gate takings, as only a few people will be aware of the match fixture. Secondly, multi-national corporations who jostle to sponsor the two clubs by paying millions of dollars yearly will cancel their sponsorship deals and move their money elsewhere because their brands will no longer be seen by the usual millions of people around the world. With the loss of revenue, the best players, coaches and other categories of staff will seek their fortune elsewhere; the famous Madrid and Barcelona football academies where global sports stars are developed will close down, along with other club-related ancillary businesses.

The picture painted above may sound extreme, but it, in a nutshell, helps to underscores the significance of media to sports development, especially as big business and corporate brand.

Therefore, from its hitherto primary role of informing, entertaining and educating the masses, the media today have become to sports development what the heart is to the body or what the engine is to a car, a life wire. So vital is the media to sports that without the media, especially satellite pay television, the sports industry, as we know it today will cease to exist. It will simply revert to the mere recreation it used to be centuries ago.

The modern Olympic is called the greatest show on earth. Without the media, it is debatable if the Games would amount to the greatest show even in the host city.

Apart from informing, educating and entertaining a global audience, the task of organizing the Olympics, training athletes, assisting sporting federations and ultimately developing sports at all levels would certainly be herculean for the International Olympics Committee (IOC) without the huge money from media rights.

The IOC was paid about $1.7 billion by broadcasters for the exclusive rights to broadcast the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Yet, a huge chunk of that money went into sports development. For the recently concluded London 2012 Olympic Games, an American broadcast network, the NBC, paid the IOC a record $1.18 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights alone and about $4.38 billion for the next two Olympics in 2016 and 2020.

The IOC uses over 90% of these monies for sports development, to support the staging of the Olympic Games and to promote the worldwide development of sports.

National Olympics Committees throughout the world also receive financial support for the training and development of Olympic teams, Olympic athletes and Olympic hopefuls.

World football governing body, FIFA uses funds raised from the media to promote and develop football. Television and media organizations pay huge sums of money for the exclusive right to broadcast matches live.

Of the US$3.7 billion in total revenues (excluding ticket sales) generated by the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, two-thirds or about US$2.4 billion was derived from the sale of broadcasting rights alone. The sale of marketing rights brought in another US$1.1 billion, and the only reason marketers buy rights is to ensure the association of their products with FIFA World Cup in the media. Without that, it is doubtful if they would be interested in the marketing rights for its own sake.

The sale of broadcasting and media rights is therefore the biggest source of revenue for most sports associations and federations, not just IOC and FIFA. It generates the funds needed to finance major sporting events, refurbish sports stadia, and contribute to the development of sport at grass root levels.

The media’s role in sports development does not begin and end with paying for broadcast rights and exposure for sponsors and other brands associated with sports in the media.

In some countries, including Nigeria, media houses conduct seminars and workshops with the aim of fashioning out strategies to develop sports; they push for good governance and ethics in sports administration and also fight racism and corruption. Stories in the media about the success of sporting idols have also inspired generations of young athletes, and led to the discovery of new talents.

Some media houses have even been more directly involved in sports development by directly organizing championships. Unarguably, the most competitive and lucrative cycling race in the world today, The Tour de France, is an initiative of a French media house, L’Auto, whose editor Henri Desgrange created the cycling race to build favorable publicity and excitement for his publication and boost sales for the magazine. The race has since been held annually since its first edition in 1903, except for when it was stopped for the two World Wars.

From a media house’s idea of boosting sales and contributing its little quota to sports development, the Tour gained prominence and popularity and became a global event. From a primarily French field, riders from all over the world began to participate in the race each year.

Another media house that has engaged in direct participation in sports development is BSkyB of Great Britain. Determined to ensure that the British embrace the sports of cycling and that a Briton wins the prestigious Tour de France, BSkyB set up Team Sky as a British professional cycling team to compete in the UCI World Tour.

The relationship began with British Cycling getting £1 million sponsorship from the television company. BSkyB’s initial 2010 goal was to ensure that a Briton won the Tour de France. This was achieved in 2012 when Bradley Wiggins won that year’s Tour de France, thereby becoming the first British winner in the history of the competition, while fellow Briton Chris Froome finished as the runner up.

It is also worthy of note that two of the most prestigious football awards: the African Footballer of the Year and European Footballer of the Year (“Ballon d’Or”) were started by media houses.

The African Footballer of the Year award, presented to the best African football (soccer) player each year, now a project of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) since 1992, was an initiative of France Football magazine. Initially, it was called African Footballer of the Year Golden Ball award between 1970 and 1994 and was organized by France Football magazine. Similarly, the European Ballon d’Or – was also awarded by the magazine since 1956 before it was taken over by UEFA.

In Nigeria, the media has a long history of significant contribution to sports development.
Long before Super Sports, the satellite based sports TV channel, Fabio Lanipekun had led a generation of Nigerians that include the late Yinka Craig, Hamed Adio, Waheed Olagunju, Rotimi Bisiriyu, Charles Ojugbana and others to pioneer sports broadcast journalism in Africa.

And, who would forget the versatile radio broadcasters like Ernest Okonkwo, Ishola Folorunsho and others, whose football commentary made many to stay glued to their radio, thereby encouraging many corporate bodies to fund sports. The magical moments in our football, including the many years of frustrating efforts to qualify for the FIFA world cup, would not have been so memorable without these incredibly talented broadcasters, whose exploits on radio contributed in many ways inspiring young Nigerians to play sport.

The newspapers were not left behind. The Daily Times, Nigerian Tribune, New Nigerian and others devoted many pages to the coverage of sports and because of this extensive coverage of sporting events, sponsors provided funds needed for sports development. It would be recalled that at a point in Nigeria, volleyball actually rivaled football for sponsors because the head of the Volleyball Federation then, Eddie Aderinokun used the media to make the game so popular that sponsors were running after the federation.

In fact, virtually all the sports had sponsors back then. Athletics enjoyed the support of Mobil, UNIC Insurance, Folawiyo Nigeria Limited, Nestle, Nigeria Breweries; while Table Tennis had Cadbury, Lever Brothers, Nigeria Breweries, Coscharis, and of course, Chief Molade Okoya Thomas who has sponsored the Asoju Oba Championship in the last 44 years, to mention but a few.

In the area of ensuring good governance and ethics, the sporting press ensured that officials were constantly on their toes and did what was best for the nation’s sports. Perhaps, because of the media’s watchdog role, sports administration was so good that the whole of Africa looked up to Nigeria for lessons in sports administration. It is important to mention that the current President of CAF Issa Hayatou, and even Danny Jordan, the head of South Africa 2010 World Cup organizing committee both learned the basics of sports administration and management in Nigeria.

Media have also contributed to unearthing new talents, in more direct ways outside their mandates. Perhaps the most remarkable in the recent history of sport in Nigeria is the discovery of Sunday Oliseh by Mumuni Alao, an illustrious media practitioner and also an alumnus of this great institution.

Permit me to tell you this fascinating story. In the build up to the 1994 Africa Nations Cup and USA 1994 FIFA World Cup, Nigeria was sorely in need of a defensive midfielder. Our coach, Clemence Westerhoff had searched far and near without success. Then Alao, on a trip to Belgium, saw Oliseh playing and interviewed him.

Upon returning to Nigerian, in his column in Complete Football, Alao wrote the famous article, ‘’Westerhoff, here is your destroyer’’. The Dutch acted immediately and Oliseh was invited into the national team. His contribution to Nigeria’s victory at Africa Nations Cup in 1994, performance at USA 94 FIFA World Cup and our winning the soccer gold medal at Atlanta 96 Olympic Games is now the stuff of legend.

Some media houses in Nigeria have also participated actively in direct sports development. Channels TV, a medium owned by an alumnus of this great institution, John Momoh, has emulated its counterparts in Europe by taking its contribution to sports development beyond informing, educating and entertaining. Channels TV sponsors a grassroots football tournament on Children’s Day in Lagos. Young footballers train and look forward to this championship yearly. Channels also contributes to the participation of children with Down- syndrome in the Special Olympics.

Africa Independent Television (AIT) has also organized an annual U-17 Championship in memory of Late Ladi Lawal also an alumnus of this department.

However, as in other areas of our national life, there are challenges in the area of media contribution to sports development in Nigeria.

At a time when our sports, even football which is our national sports, is not doing so well, it appears that this decline has also greatly affected the quality of sports journalism in the country. Perhaps, the connection between media and sports is more symbiotic than we think!

I have said it severally, and I would like to repeat it here for the benefit of my colleagues. Most corporate organizations are not in business to develop sports. They would only invest in sports if doing so would help boost their business. And, perhaps the primary benefit they will derive from sponsoring sport activities is the positive media they would get, and the association of their products with a successful sporting event or a successful athlete. If they are not going to get this, they would rather spend their money in music and entertainments rather than sports. The media must not compromise its responsibility of holding sports administrators at all levels accountable and they must continue to preach the best practices. However, wild sensationalism and the seeming obsession with the negative and the sleazy are ultimately counter-productive. Unproven allegation of corruption, I must say, is as damaging as the actual act of corruption itself. No act of corruption must go unpunished, but no sponsor would put their money where there are whispers of corruption. This obviously imposes responsibilities on both the administrators of our sports and the media alike. In the end, we are all best served by a prosperous and thriving sports sector.

Closely related to the above is our journalists’ appetite for devoting majority of their pages to foreign stories. The temptation to do this is understandably high, with the incredible revolution in the media and the global culture, which have sent many traditional practitioners gasping for breath. Because Nigerians follow the European Leagues, economic reality and sound business judgment dictates that some pages of our newspapers and air time on our national television be dedicated to the coverage of the European Leagues. But this should not be to the detriment of our local sports.

Our penchant for logging into foreign websites has created a new generation of ‘copy cat’ journalists who only download stories from the Internet, slam it on pages of newspapers and go home. Closely related to this, I have also noticed that media reports tend to focus more on sports administrators, instead of players, athletes and the sport itself. Therefore, the media get inadvertently sucked in to the bitter rivalry and politicking among sports administrators, in a way that disgracefully pitches journalists against each other along the lines of the rival camps. The media at all times, must rise above the frays, this is the only way they can remain a credible watchdog. Because, as the saying goes, if gold rusts, what would iron do?

Coming from a media background, I know the importance of image and public perception. I also know that without good image, we may not be able to attract the right investments and the right caliber of human resources to work with us to achieve the change that we so dearly need and desire.

The Yoruba say ‘Bi oniIe ba se pegba re, ni anbape’ (people would treat your property just the way you present it). As the number one sports person in Nigeria, I have started a campaign that appears to be changing the public perception about sport management in Nigeria. We are beginning to see a gradual return of sponsors that left as a result of crises and other negative trends.

We realize that there is a dearth of sport activities, especially at the grassroots level and where we have activities, they are not well packaged and reported in ways that will attract sponsorship.

We have also realized the need to have people who have a passion for sports to head sport associations. We know that once we have round pegs in round holes sponsors will come and once there are sponsors fund will be available for sports development. With the reconstitution of the board of NASCOM, the body charged with the responsibility of discovering new talents, we are confident that sports participation at the grassroots level will be greatly enhanced.

Even though we are desperate to see new leadership in charge of the various sport Federations, just as many have advocated following our dismal performance in London, but we also have to ensure that we adhere to the rules, which does not provide for arbitrary dissolution of these boards. The creative approach, which of course is less dramatic, is to set new eligibility guidelines ahead of next elections which would attract new caliber of people and hopefully lead to better performance down the line.

Let me conclude by emphasizing that we are all stakeholders in this business of sports development. Continuing on the old path that I outlined above is not how we will make progress. If we achieve the kind of development we envisage for our sports, the media would be one of the chief beneficiaries because of the mutually reinforcing outcomes that we have seen in other climes in both sports and media development, which seems to guarantee that both rise and fall together. It is clear that the relationship between the media and sport; is like the catholic marriage. No matter what happens, divorce is not allowed.

Thank you and God bless.

* BOLAJI ABDULLAHI, Minister of Sports and Chairman, National Sports Commission (NSC) made this presentation at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Univeristy of Lagos (UNILAG) held November 28, 2012.

Manager Web Manager, Technology Times http://technologytimes.ng

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