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“Young people deserve more than sports”
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“Young people deserve more than sports”

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Oghenekevwe Oghenechovwen picAs he approaches the end of his teen years, Oghenekevwe Oghenechovwen, 18, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Warri in Nigeria, looks at the role and impact of sports, and reflects on changes being made to the way they are being organised and promoted.

When it comes to sports, neither do I have a natural affinity for them nor some talent at participating in them.

Some years ago I left the stands, for the second time, to try out a daring 5000 metre race. To many, my performance was funny and poor – I did only about 400 metres before the leading runner overtook me. The experience of my first sport try-out was similar. Notwithstanding this, I have always appreciated and recognised the possibilities sports create under correct settings and environments. Take, for example, its ability to foster inclusion, unity and progress.

Early this year on Facebook, when Africa Youth Hero and Mandela Washington Fellow Ms. Yayra Hya started discussions of the failed union of youth and sport federal ministries in Ghana since January 2009, it made me wonder if youthfulness is all about sports and games. Even though her posts were directed to Ghana’s President-elect Nana Akufo-Addo, it drew the attention and comments of Nigerian youths. The first time youths from Nigeria reacted that way on such issue was six months from his May 29, 2015 inauguration when President Muhammadu Buhari merged the Nigerian Ministry of Youth Development with the National Sports Commission to form the Ministry of Youth and Sports, appointing Colonel Solomon Dalung, Esq. as its Minister.

It is important to note that until the re-establishment, the Nigerian Ministry of Youth Development stood alone since 2007. As is it now, many young Nigerians and elder citizens were not happy with the re-establishment. To them, joining issues of youth orientation, empowerment and advancement with the complex, problematic and irregularity-filled sport sector was not well-informed. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the appointment of Colonel Dalung to oversee the new ministry – a man whose chief experiences are from the prison service and law industry in Nigeria.

“Happy New Year, Mr. President-Elect. Can we please have a separate ministry for youth”, Yayra Hya posted on Facebook, “The marriage between youth and sports has not worked. Sports have too much on the table for youth issues to have some space”.

Sunday Chibuzo Okereke, a Nigerian and Regional Representative of the African Union Chapter, commented that “Lack of understanding of what youth is and how to organize youth action is the reason for this merger but it is a horrendous marriage. I am happy you have this thought. The association between youth and sports development is a relativism crisis.“

“…The marriage between Youths and Sports is a marriage that needs a divorce”, commented Jamie Pajoel, another Nigerian and African Union Ambassador.

In Ghana, and perhaps in Nigeria, the reason for the re-establishment was to represent an emergent trend among countries worldwide, particularly in the Commonwealth nations, that acknowledges the inherent advantages in the natural affinity between youth and sports as an instrument for national development. In the case of Ghana, it seems either the government failed to manage it effectively or they lost priorities. In Nigeria, the timing and environment was not right for kick-off. Certain initiatives and structures ought to have being in place before such a delicate re-establishment. These are the causes of the recent outcries over the merger.

I believe the words of Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser on Sport for Development and Peace to former UNSG Ban Ki-moon, that “Sport is a wonderful equalizer and a very efficient tool to ensure inclusion. It can certainly place everyone on a level playing field.”

Sport is not a new element in development cooperation. Physical activity is vital to the holistic development of young people, fostering their physical, social and emotional health. The benefits of sport reach beyond the impact on physical well-being and the value of the educational benefits of sport should not be under-estimated.

However, the Buhari-led administration has failed to create an enabling space for both youths and sport to thrive. It has leaned more towards sports, especially football tourneys and trips, whilst ignoring the important need to develop the teeming youth population and provide real leadership for them.

In his goodwill message for the New Year, Colonel Dalung said much will be happening in Nigerian sports in the year 2017. From the message, the 2016 achievements of the Nigerian Ministry of Youth and Sports were all related to FIFA, Nigeria Football Federation, FIBA, Olympics, and Paralympics. Nothing about the youth-part of the Ministry: capacity development, entrepreneurship, representation, delegation, governance, and so on. We deserve more than sports.

Photo credit: coyote-agile jf_fifa_2016-02-25_89 via photopin (license)

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About me: A B.Tech. student of Meteorology and Climate science (FUTA), I am an idealist, observer, a leader, creative writer and ready volunteer.
I am interested in volunteering, youth and education, leadership, women empowerment, climate change, politics, media and information technology.
My ambition is to make change and cause global reformation with my pen, resources and time.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/
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