In the face of plenty of opposition in 1990, the then UK Prime Minister, John Major pushed through the establishment of the National Lottery. Some of the opposition was quelled with the way the bill was crafted – 28% of the funds was to be dedicated to ‘good causes’.
Today the distribution of the National Lottery funds are as follows
50% – Prizes for lottery winners
28% – Good causes
12% – Government taxes
5% – Commission to lottery ticket sellers
4.5% – Operating costs to Camelot (lottery operator)
0.5% – Profit to lottery operator (Camelot)
Breaking down the 28% dedicated to good causes further – 20% each goes to sports, arts and heritage. The remaining 40% goes to something called The Big Lottery Fund which helps to fund a lot of volunteering and community projects.
Since 1994, the total amount of money that has gone to good causes has been an amazing £28bn. Even though the share going to sports has only recently increased to 20% from 18%, we can make a simple estimate that £4bn has gone into funding sports since 1994 or around £222m every year.
Before the Athens Olympics, cyclists in the UK were part timers – most of them would go to their 9 to 5 jobs during the day and then practice in the evenings. Needless to say, in a sport where half a second can be the difference between gold and no medal, part timing couldnt possibly be ideal.
Dave Brailsford, the Head of the British Cycling Olympic programme was able to secure enough funding to the point where cyclists could be paid monthly salaries so they could quit their jobs and focus totally on the sport. I understand the man’s attention to detail extends to determining the kind of pillows his cyclists use to sleep at night. The helmets used by the cyclists cost £3,000 each never mind the bikes.
What’s the lesson for Nigeria here? Government is not always the best way to do things. Imagine if funding for sports was determined by MPs in Parliament. Given that politicians always find it hard to think beyond the next election, sports funding can never be reliable. When the Conservatives are in power, you can be guaranteed that equestrian sports, archery and such like will get increased funding. This is not neccesarily because Conservative MPs like those sports but because such sports are likely to be popular where they get their votes from. And then when Labour kick them out of power, they will seek to reduce funding for such sports and increase for athletics and other sports popular in urban areas where they get their votes from. And then perhaps when the economy isnt so great, sports funding will be one of the things to be cut first.
In other words, government and or politicians cant really be relied upon to fund things like sports that have no obvious returns. But it is useful to fund sports because of the non tangible benefits because you cannot put a price on the public mood when the country wins a lot of gold medals in the olympics as an example.
But the best thing about how sports is funded in the UK is the voluntary nature of it all – people buy lottery tickets because they think they can become millionaires overnight. But even when they dont become millionaires, they end up funding good causes anyway. Nothing beats such an arrangement….no coercion involved, you walk with your two legs to the lottery shop and give them your £1.
So how can we fund sports in Nigeria independent of govt? Nigerians clearly love sports and talent abounds in the nation from north to south waiting to be harnessed and prevented from doing something more harmful to society like election thuggery. There is no point relying on govt for something like this; they are only slightly better than useless and the sooner we come to terms with this the better.
Here are 2 ideas I am playing with in my head.
Option No Biggie
Let’s face it, there are a lot of problems facing Nigeria at the moment and most of these problems stare at us everyday. Take our international airport in Lagos – the disgrace is permanently there and everyone sees it everyday. The problem of power failure is also felt everyday as well as bad roads.
But the shame and disgrace we feel from the olympics is ‘only’ every 4 years. We can make the choice to ignore this problem and instead prepare our minds to be disgraced again in 2016 and come home empty handed. We dont have to be good at sports and if we can deal with this problem and move on from it quickly every 4 years, it might be worth accepting it as a part of life and not worry ourselves too much about it.
So we focus on how we can get 24/7 electricity and reduce corruption. Going to the olympics and coming home empty handed? No biggie.
Option No Government
How do we get sports funded in a serious manner independent of govt? We cannot also ignore the fact that govt is not the only problem with us – corruption has entered our blood stream so there’s no point building a fund that might run into billions and then acting surprised when a ‘scandal’ erupts and the people tasked with managing the funds are found to have helped themselves to the odd billion here and there.
Here’s my idea- we can use a platform like www.kickstarter.com to fund some of our athleted directly. Right after the London olympics are over, we can identify a few athletes who are promising and are willing to work towards Rio 2016.
Say it will cost a 400m hurdler $200k to get ready for the olympics, we can get them to put themselves on Kickstarter and then Nigerians around the world contribute to fund them. This $200k can be broken down into $50k every year. There are competitions every year so if an athlete shows unseriousness after year 1, then no one will fund them after that and the first $50k will just be written off.
Someone like Blessing Okagbare is clearly suffering from poor coaching as her poor start is a problem that has been with her for a long time. Maybe she needs a bit more funding to get with a top international coach to remove the rough edges from her running? Or Maryam Usman can get better coaching so she isnt forced to gamble like she was made to by her coaches and then coming bottom when a medal was in sight initially.
People will be able to contribute $10 and more to an athlete and wish them all the best. It’s not an investment that yields any tangible returns other than the joy you feel if the athlete manages to win a medal in Rio. If the govt decides to contribute funds in the final 24hours before the olympics start as usual, all good. But those of us who’d like to see Nigeria do well at the olympics will know we’ve done something to make it happen.
Waiting for Bolaji Abdullahi or whoever the next journeyman politician to be made sports minister to ‘do something’ is a waste of time. He cannot do jack. These people are in politics for themselves and will always think of themselves before doing anything for ‘Nigeria’.
In the meantime, I am going to start buying lottery tickets as often as I can now. Given the number of athletes of Nigerian origin that have competed for Team GB in these olympics, I know that’s another way to support ‘Nigerian’ athletes who probably would never have gotten a chance if they were competing for Nigeria. All join.
Comment is free…let’s hear your ideas. Dont pollute my comments section with what govt should do or not do, no time for that here, find another blog to do that please :).
Obviously this is not a perfect idea – it is only for athletes who are already somewhat established and geared towards the next olympics. But big things can begin this way. If it catches on as an idea, a fund can be built and then deployed to nurture talent with a longer term view.
But I am more interested in what you have to say. Comment, as always, is free.