The Nigerian Sports Industry has more potential than exporting talents overseas. In this interview, Swimming and Aquatics expert, Aderoju Ope-Ajayi, argues that with the right policies, opportunities, and support put in place, the industry could grow into becoming a feasible contributor to Nigeria’s economic growth.
- What is the current state of the sports industry in Nigeria? How has it affected the Nigerian economy in the past?
The Sports Industry in Nigeria, one could say, is in a semi-active state. It could be highly profitable yet remains an untapped and viable industry. The industry players are few and far between because there are no policies in place to support and drive sports businesses. The Nigerian Economy is yet to feel the economic impact or enjoy the financial revenues from the sports industry compared to other industries such as; Oil and Gas, Construction, Entertainment, to name a few.
Any economic impact felt recently from commercial sports activities emanates directly from the Sports Betting Companies. Sports betting generates enormous sums of revenue and despite whatever personal opinions we have about it, it appears to be the most profitable venture connected to the sports industry as opposed to the actual Sports Businesses themselves.
- Why should organisations or the government focus on the sports industry as a tool for economic growth?
The diversity and opportunities which lie in the value chain of the sports industry cannot be overemphasized from the production of Sporting equipment & apparel to the talent identification & Management of players and Athletes to sports facility construction. The opportunities are truly numerous.
When you consider the number of young people in Nigeria, where people between the ages 0-14 make up 42.4% of the population, you can confidently say that in a sense, Nigeria is a country of young people. Therein lies the opportunity for growth and development and sports has been proven to be an effective tool in other parts of Africa such as in South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, for developing the youth, harnessing raw talent as well as the bedrock driving economic growth. From building conducive sporting / recreation centers to equipping and kitting them out, to coaching and other areas which can generate revenue. This would result in an immense boost in creation of jobs and in turn, boost economic growth.
- When people think of a career in “sports”, the first thing which comes to mind is becoming a footballer, or an athlete. The options in sports as a career seem limited and for this reason, many people do not consider sports as a long-term career option or a serious endeavor. Why is this the case? And how can this perception be changed?
Although historically in Nigeria this was the case, the perception thankfully, is changing rapidly, and presently, the reverse is the case. For instance, we find nowadays, parents encouraging their children and wards to participate in more sports at school. For instance, the interest in Junior Football has grown so much, especially due to the influence of the European Premier League and various international Football Leagues and of course the huge monetary payouts to these players. I believe that we can successfully expand the scope of sports in Nigeria to extend beyond popular sports such as Martial Arts, Athletics, Basketball and Football to the less popular sports such as cricket, netball, etc. It starts by putting in place conducive sporting infrastructure which can be used to promote these other sports. This is key. Then the youth can watch, understand and develop an interest in these sports. This is also a tool for the development of fresh athletes for the various sports disciplines.
- Participating in the sports industry goes beyond goes beyond being a spectator at football matches or running in charity marathon races. What roles can entrepreneurs play in building the industry? What entrepreneurial opportunities exist?
As mentioned before, the sports industry is made up of several value-chain components from Sports Equipment & Apparel Production, to Sports Teams Management and Development, to Training and Coaching, Sports Psychology & Sports Medicine and much more.
I want to encourage more sports entrepreneurs into this industry, but they need to think creatively, be open minded, bold, willing and most of all, tenacious to operate in uncharted territories. The Government must support these entrepreneurs with the necessary policies such as tax holidays and benefits to not only encourage investment in the industry, but also ensure sustainable growth smooth implementation of their business strategies.
- Are there policies already in place to facilitate growth? How can these policies be leveraged?
A lot of things are currently in the pipeline. Behind the scene, a think-tank called the National Economic Summit Group (NESG) which has been responsible for many significant economic transformational reforms in the country notably the telecoms sector, exists. With the aim of recreating the same effect in the sports industry one of its sub – groups The Sports Industry Thematic Group ably led by the indefatigable Mrs. Nkechi Obi has been working tirelessly to ensure these policies are in place to facilitate growth. As we know, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so this is definitely a process we cannot rush. The most important thing is that the conversation has begun along with the relevant government parastatals such as the Ministry of Youth and Sports to ensure that a harmonious approach is adopted and growth of the sports industry is prioritized.
- What does a viable sports industry look like? In 2050, what kind of industry would you like to see?
Personally, I would like to see a viable and robust industry where there is significant collaboration between the government and private sectors to build the necessary infrastructure to foster growth. An industry where we are not reliant on imports to facilitate basics such as developmental trainings. Where every child in Nigeria is given an equal opportunity to discover sports the same way they are encouraged to excel academically. It begins by having sports complexes in every community. This dream is possible if we are willing to make it happen.
- In your opinion, what are the next right steps that the nation needs to take to make the industry a viable one?
I believe the NESG & The Sports Industry Thematic Group (STIG) has initiated the conversation. The first thing would be to have policies which would support the development of the industry. Policies such as tax breaks which would encourage local manufacturing of sports goods, inclusion of Sports Medicine and Sports Psychology, as well as Sports Management into the curriculums of higher educational institutions. Construction of sports complexes in conjunction with the private sector to encourage developmental sports and build requisite interest in various sports disciplines. I believe with these; the sports industry can be seen as a viable industry contributing to economic growth.
- Using your business as an example, how have you been able to grow, despite the conditions that have limited others?
I have grown my business primarily from bootstrapping and I must admit, I have been fortunate or rather blessed, to be the recipient of local and international grants after rigorous selection processes. My business falls under the Swimming and Aquatics Segment of the sports industry. I would say that I am in the business of equipping individuals (women & children) especially with the necessary water safety skills. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to pitch for grants both locally and internationally and succeeded which has helped me grow my business effectively through capital injections.
It is true that conditions may not always be perfect when you start a business but there comes a point when certain factors such as access to capital become critical for growth and truth be told, the local governmental support in Nigeria is just not there. Swimming is still not even considered as one of the popular sports in Nigeria, notwithstanding the recent awareness, sensitisation, campaigns with the help of The Lagos State Swimming Association (of which I’m a Board Member), and the Nigerian Aquatics Federation.
I do believe and hope that with consistent effort, we will eventually make swimming a mainstream sport in this country which can be enjoyed by all and not just the elite. Swimming is an amazing sport with so many health benefits. I will continue to advocate the fantastic benefits it has brought me not just as a form of business, but also health-wise.
Aderoju Ope-Ajayi is a Sales Expert, Certified Swimming Instructor, Lifeguard and Water Safety Trainer, and founder of Dolphin Aquatic Center & Dolphin Swim School. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell Biology & Genetics; a Post-Graduate Diploma in Personnel Management: an EMBA from Metropolitan University UK and Senior Management certification from Lagos Business School, as well as over 15 years Sales and Distribution experience in Telecommunications (GSM) and Pay TV industry, Aderoju has developed cutting edge expertise in Business Strategy, Sales, Key Account Management and Customer Care Relations.