There are not too many endeavours that exert stronger expressive behaviours in human beings than sports. Indeed, emotions are part of sports and are as important to the athletes as they are to the spectators. There is always some idolatry streak in spectators that goes beyond hero worship. Sportspersons are expected to be gods of happiness and not harbingers of sadness. However, their performances are sources of happiness and, sometimes, of sadness. Their participation or performances are not supposed to be for their individual pleasure but for the satisfaction of some yearnings in their spectators. Public authorities, therefore, see it as imperative to secure sporting venues with security personnel in attendance because of the propensity of organised competitive sports to trigger intense and uncontrollable emotions in spectators, who have invested their emotions and staked their bragging rights, pride and ego on an athlete or a team. Whereas sportspersons can cope with the pressure from their supporters, not many of them take favourably to political interference in their sports. To sportspersons, sports is not all about spurs, medals, trophies and money. There is that bond between them and the public from which their fans are drawn. Fidelity to that bond requires discipline and dedication. Mental and environmental tranquilities are key to their trade. The obstructive, chaotic morals and ethics of politics are too distracting for them to cope with.
It is understandable that professional performers or players in organised sports would prefer the tuning of political influence or interference out of sports. Politicians are hardly entirely altruistic in their involvement in sports. They identify with the numbers that go with the sports and not so much about the goals of the sports. Sports can also serve as a platform for a demonstration of political dominance. Be that as it may, sportspersons may note that sporting activities are not all about the performers. There are the officials, allied professionals, rule makers, spectators, fans, consumers, workers, investors and financiers who together create sporting cultures, competitive social behavioural patterns and economies controlled by politicians. In other words, the culture of sports and business in sports cannot be separated from politics and political influences. As a social phenomenon, every organised sport must be sensitive to societal behavioural limitations and community moral and ethical values validated and policed by the politicians in power. Political leaders can also not afford to be cautious about or indifferent to sports because of the invaluable influences that sports have on the everyday life of the individual. Sports highlight the positives of competition in their ability to bring the best out of individuals. Sports also make a strong case for law and order. All sports are rule-based. The job of political leaders will be half done the sooner we start obeying laws like sportspersons. Moreover, sports – of whatever kind – offer strong lessons in teamwork and leadership. Although individuals are often chosen or recruited to participate or compete in specified sports because of their creativity and outstanding skills, it is their ability to work with others that enhances their productivity.
The hosting of organised international competitive sports has always had some political components. History is replete with records of how kings used competitive sports to exhibit wealth and power. Defeated athletes were said to have been used as slaves under the Roman Empire. Britain used football and cricket to conquer the hearts and minds of her colonised subjects. The Olympics has its origin in the political meetings and celebrations of military alliance by independent Greek city-states. In a word, the better proposition is the management of the delicate relationship between sports and politics.
Sportspersons have, in many instances, been game spoilers for politicians. Hitler went to his grave with a grudge against Jesse Owens. Hitler hosted the Olympics in 1936, at the height of his regime, the goal being to use the Olympics to show off his regime and its ideologies to the rest of the world. The attention of the world was, however, on Jesse Owens, an African-American track and field athlete, who won four gold medals, beating the athletes representing Hitler’s Germany on their home turf.
On Friday, 13 November 2020, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State hosted the Africa Cup of Nations qualification match between Nigeria and Sierra Leone to show the world what he had done with the old Samuel Ogbemudia – aka Ogbe – Stadium in Benin and to amplify his populist ideas for Edo State. History had assured him that the Super Eagles would defeat the Leone Stars. A mammoth crowd of youths was already stationed in and outside the stadium to celebrate the victory. The pictures would have included his posters and those of his deputy. The celebration would have been used to announce him as a people’s Governor.
A day before the match, Obaseki had been inaugurated at the same stadium for his second term in office as Governor of Edo State. The event was lavishly publicised and televised in many national television networks. The entire stadium was adorned with posters of him and those of his deputy. Against tradition, the Governor yielded space to his deputy so much so that a first-time visitor to the state might find it difficult to tell who the boss was. The posters gave the impression that the Governor owed some gratitude to his deputy, Philip Shaibu. That is, however, not the focus here. Ours is about the economics and politics of the hosting.
The hosting might not have come cheap to the Governor. He would be lucky if it did not entail the picking of the bills associated with the match. The fact that the match was to be televised to the world by Supersports must have given the Governor the comfort that he would get the state’s money’s worth in image laundering. The renovated stadium can serve as a symbol of the intentions of the Governor for the state. Sports is dear to the people of Edo State, a state that has always been a reliable contributor to Nigeria’s global achievements in sports. Besides, in this part of the world, there is no dividing line between authorised state spending and spending of state money by a public official for private ends. The money spent in hosting the match was, therefore, money well spent.
What must have, however, spoilt the day for the Governor is the fact that the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone stole the day. Although the Leone Stars were not motivated by a desire to undermine the political goals of the Governor, their historical feat of forcing a 4-4 draw on Nigeria, after conceding four goals within the first 29 minutes of the match, shattered whatever gains the Governor intended to reap from the match. The Leone Stars became the poster boys of the footballing world right from that moment up to the second leg that was played yesterday. Supersports and the international media were not interested in the renovated stadium; after all, they were accustomed to filming and broadcasting better stadia across the continents. The good story for their audiences was the feat of the Leone Stars whose performance showed that they more focused and less pampered and distracted by politicians.
As an anecdote, Mr. Governor may be well-advised that modern sporting activities and facilities lend themselves more to economics than politics. That beautiful stadium is most likely to return to the ruinous state from which he has resuscitated it if it is not put to self-sustaining economic use.