In the eloquent words of Nelson Mandela, “Sport has the power to change the world.” These words encapsulate the transformative potential of sports in fostering peace, resolving diplomatic challenges, and building community cohesion. In today’s landscape, the impact of sports extends beyond mere entertainment and competition, gaining recognition from governments, nonprofits, corporations, and multilateral agencies for its role in development and peace initiatives.
While sports have long been encouraged across various domains, a systematic analysis of their potential for development cooperation and conflict prevention, particularly in Nigeria, has been notably absent. The sports industry in Nigeria is currently undergoing a digital transformation, offering new growth opportunities. However, economic challenges, including recent recessions and a growing poverty rate, pose substantial obstacles to these plans. The Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017–2020 recognizes the need for a digital-led strategy to enhance competitiveness, potentially benefiting the sports sector.
Despite ongoing efforts in planning and funding for sports facilities, the future of sports infrastructure in Nigeria faces various risks, including economic instability and potential declines in oil production. In a nation grappling with challenges such as poverty, joblessness, and social tensions, sports are emerging as a catalyst for personal growth, social stability, and sustainable development. This article explores the intersection of sport, development, and peace in Nigeria, shedding light on diverse programs and organizations harnessing the power of sports to drive positive change.
Sport: A Catalyst for Progress and Unity
Sport transcends boundaries, uniting diverse individuals and serving as a potent platform for positive awareness messages and social change. In Nigeria, sports are evolving beyond a luxury to become a vital investment in present and future development, recognized as fundamental human rights with promising potential for social transformation and peacebuilding.
Revitalizing Urban Wellness through Sports Programs
In Nigerian urban areas, sports programs play a pivotal role in promoting physical fitness, skill development, and social integration among youth. The Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC) stands at the forefront, implementing diverse sports programs for various age groups and genders. These initiatives, spanning football, basketball, athletics, and swimming, aim to identify and nurture talented athletes, prepare them for national and international competitions, and even offer sports scholarships for higher education.
Empowering Rural Youth: The Role of YSFON
The Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) is a non-governmental organization dedicated to grassroots sports development, particularly in rural areas. YSFON organizes various sports events, such as football tournaments, athletic meets, and volleyball matches, engaging thousands of young people from diverse communities. Beyond physical activity, these activities encourage social interaction, cultural exchange, and conflict resolution, fostering personal growth and community cohesion.
Despite the belief that sports participation inevitably contributes to youth development, it is important to note that the positive effects are not automatic but are influenced by various factors such as the quality of the sports program and the support provided by coaches and parents. Sport-based interventions have been identified as effective in promoting positive youth development (PYD) outcomes, including life skills. However, there is a need for more rigorous research to understand the processes contributing to these outcomes, such as predictors of ongoing engagement and the alignment between the target population and the intervention.
Sustainable Development in Rural Nigeria: The CLP Initiative
Development programs in Nigeria aim to raise living standards and improve health and education, particularly in rural and remote areas. The Community Life Project (CLP), a non-profit organization, collaborates with Nigerian rural communities to promote sustainable development, human rights, and social justice. Through training and resources on agriculture, health, gender, and governance, CLP empowers communities to identify their needs, priorities, and solutions, enabling them to become self-sufficient and resilient.
UNDP’s Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Inclusive Growth
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) plays a crucial role in facilitating development programs in Nigeria, focusing on poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability, and inclusive growth. By leveraging partnerships with government, civil society, and the private sector, the UNDP implements initiatives such as the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP). YEP equips young Nigerians with vocational training, entrepreneurship skills, and start-up capital, enabling them to establish their own businesses and employment opportunities.
Sports as a Pathway to Conflict Prevention
Sports initiatives in Nigeria have been found to play a role in promoting peace and social cohesion. The Peace through Sports Engagement project focuses on rebuilding trust, healing from conflict, and cultivating tolerance. Additionally, a peacebuilding approach that involves children and strengthens social cohesion within communities has been implemented. A case study in Pakistan highlights the activities of a civil society initiative that promotes peace, tolerance, and social cohesion through localized interfaith interventions. These initiatives demonstrate the potential of sports to foster peace and social cohesion in Nigeria.
The use of sports can significantly improve mental health and foster stronger societal bonds, particularly among the younger generation, thereby contributing to social cohesion in conflict-affected communities. However, it’s important to consider cultural sensitivities, such as mixed-gender groups in conservative communities, which may face resistance and pose challenges to social cohesion efforts. In Nigeria, peace programs aim to prevent and resolve conflicts, strengthen social cohesion, and enhance resilience against violent extremism.
The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) collaborates with local partners to implement initiatives focusing on conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and combating violent extremism. By providing training, dialogue platforms, and capacity-building activities, USIP empowers stakeholders, including community leaders, youth, women, and religious groups, to enhance their conflict analysis, mediation, and reconciliation skills.
Sport stands as a driving force for development and peace in Nigeria, offering a conduit to social and economic progress, improved health outcomes, and enhanced social cohesion. While interventions are highly regarded in policy development, a comprehensive meta-analytic review of their effects is lacking. Some caution against narrowly defining sports-based social interventions, emphasizing the need for alternative ways to evaluate outcomes in consultation with young people.
The transformative potential of sports programs in marginalized communities cannot be overstated, providing avenues for education, health, and economic empowerment. However, realizing the full potential of sport requires investment in infrastructure, funding for training and competitions, and addressing corruption within the sector. By recognizing the value of sport as a catalyst for change, Nigeria can pave the way for a sustainable future, empowering its youth, promoting social stability, and fostering a culture of peace.