It is well over 1,200 days since Lagosians gave Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu the mandate to steer the ship of the State for a 1,460-day cycle subject to renewal for another 1,460 days if performance is satisfactory. I could recall one of his campaign trails at the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria secretariat inside the National Stadium, Surulere where he promised to change the face of sports in the State by taking tangible strides in fixing infrastructure and implementing programmes that will create an enabling environment for sports to thrive.
As he seeks another 4-year mandate on his record of achievements, it will be a disservice to Lagosians not to chronicle his stewardship in the area of sports as a sector that runs through a few pillars of the THEMES agenda of his administration.
Sport as a sector of the economy is a subset of the Health, Environment, Entertainment, and Tourism pillars of the THEMES agenda, meaning a sector with such a far-reaching influence cannot be underestimated in the development plans of the state.
So, one of the early appointments Mr. Sanwo-Olu made after he was sworn in as the governor in May 2019 was to announce Mr. Gafaar Oluwatoyin Bolowotan- a financial expert and sports administrator whose contribution to the promotion of sports at the grassroots is well documented- as the Director General of the Lagos State Sports Commission, also another egghead in the sports industry Mr. Sola Aiyepeku, a seasoned sports marketer, administrator, and an astute manager was appointed as the Chairman of the Lagos Sports Commission, this was Governor Sanwo-Olu laying down the marker to signify a departure from the business as usual style.
In the last three and half years, sports in Lagos State have witnessed a remarkable turnaround in six areas that will be highlighted in this article.
INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE
Sports infrastructure is the bedrock of a sustainable and viable sports ecosystem and Governor Sanwo-Olu has launched an unprecedented and far-reaching rebuild, renovation, and construction of sports facilities across Lagos State to close the gap in the internationally accepted population to sports facilities ratio. The Teslim Balogun Stadium is one of the oldest sports complexes in Lagos overlooking the National Stadium another vintage infrastructure, the Sanwo-Olu administration has remodeled Stadium into a modern, iconic location by completely roofing the stadium, upgrading the hospitality and media facilities, modernising the dressing rooms and floodlights to FIFA standards which earned the stadium a CAF and FIFA certification to host international football games. Also worthy of mention is the replacement of the tartan track after 18 years to a World Athletics standard.
Renovation works were also carried out in Rowe Park Sports Complex in Yaba with the Indoor sports hall, and the basketball and handball courts wearing a new look while a newly constructed Olympic size swimming pool sprawls within the complex. At the Agege stadium, there are renovation works carried out with a replacement of the football turf after 15 years making it possible to host domestic league games there every week. The former Onikan Stadium now Mobolaji Johnson Arena project was completed by the governor and it has hosted international and domestic football games as well as entertainment events. Residents of Gbagada now enjoy the renovated and expanded sports facility in the area. It must be said that there is an unprecedented construction of multipurpose stadiums ongoing in Badagry, Ifako- Ijaiye, Igbogbo – Ikorodu, Epe, Sari-Iganmu and Lekki.
HOSTING NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL EVENTS
Hosting national and international sporting events unleash social and economic gains on residents, businesses, and host cities. Lagos under Sanwo-Olu has played host to events that have strategically placed the state as a premium destination for investment and tourism, a case in point is the annual Lagos City Marathon, an international event that puts Lagos on the global map as participants come from everywhere in the world to be part of it. The commercial activities around the event are rewarding for the state economy and individual businesses, as footfalls and interest generated by the event earned it a gold-label status as a result of the commitment and support of the Sanwo-Olu’s administration. Lagos under Sanwo-Olu also hosted three Super Eagles FIFA World Cup qualifiers and one CAF Nations Cup qualifier at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, 20 years after the state last hosted any Super Eagles game.
Making the catalogue of the international sporting events hosted by Lagos in the last three and half years is the inaugural women’s football invitational tournament, the Aisha Buhari Cup which was held at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan. The Confederation of Africa-sanctioned event featured six countries. Lagos also played host to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Africa Table Tennis Championship in 2021 and 2022.
REVIVAL OF GRASSROOTS SPORTS
The leadership of the Lagos State Sports Commission as mandated by Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu embarked on an aggressive grassroots programme to discover and nurture talents. As of the last count over 100 events in 40 sports have been organised by the commission through the sports associations, private-public partnership, and the launch of the Lagos School Sports Intervention Programme (LASSIP) through which sports equipment are distributed to schools in the six educational districts in the state. The state also introduced a summer camp in 2021 and 2022 in which over 4,000 youths participated in different sports as well as character formation programmes which is a necessity for a successful sporting career. There is also a deliberate move to improve the performance of the state teams at national events by reducing the average age of the team through the promotion of young athletes that have displayed exceptional skills. The sports commission has also demonstrated the capacity to align with the vision of the number one citizen by working with present realities, inaugurating the E-Sports Association, Netball and Cheerleading Association, first in the country.
REDEMPTION OF PAST AND CURRENT ACHIEVEMENTS
Gov Sanwo-Olu is one person who believes the labour of our sports heroes past and present should never be in vain, so, he matched words with action as the governor by motivating past and present athletes who have achieved a significant feat which in turn inspire and unleash a new generation of athletes. This is evident in the way he redeemed unfulfilled promises to some former national athletes who had to wait for 25 years to be finally rewarded. Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medalist Chioma Ajunwa could not believe it when Gov Sanwo-Olu handed over to her the key to the house she was promised in 1996 after her historic feat. Also, Patrick Pascal, a member of the gold-winning 1996 national Under-23 team at the Atlanta Olympics is a beneficiary of Gov Sanwo-Olu’s heart of gold after his 25 years of waiting to own a house he was promised turned into a relished accomplishment. Team Lagos contingent to the 2018 National Sports Festival have received their bonuses and monetary reward as a gesture to show that government is a continuum, going forward, the government of Lagos has been paying the State’s athletes to National Youth Games and National Sports Festival in the last 3 years.
As partners in progress, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu is improving the working relationship between the state government and the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Lagos State Chapter by donating a brand-new bus to the association to help them monitor and evaluate the revolution going on in sports in the state.
LAGOS SPORTS OF INCLUSION
Inclusion in sport means everyone in our diverse community, regardless of their gender, age, race, culture, religion, or ability, is afforded a range of opportunities to participate. This is what the THEMES agenda of the Governor Sanwo-Olu administration is about, making sure that no one is left behind which is reflected in the composition of the Lagos State Sports Commission board which has fifty percent women, and the various sports associations in the state which constitute thirty percent of women, as a matter of policy. Support for women’s sports in the state is evident in the hosting of Africa’s first edition of an invitational women’s football event as well as donating a bus to FC Robo; a women’s football club based in Lagos and playing in the Nigeria women’s football league. Inaugurating Nigeria’s first Netball and Cheerleading association is also a pointer that women have a place in Lagos Sports and the place is well acknowledged.
If there is any segment of the sports ecosystem that has suffered neglect in the past it is the special athletes also knowns as para-athletes, that is why Lagos hosted the maiden edition of Southwest, Nigeria para-athletics championship in 2021 and to signpost how Lagos has invested in para-sports, the state won the championship by winning 9 gold, 15 silver, and 15 bronze medal while speaking to the Guardian in an interview, Executive Chairman, Lagos State Sports Commission, Sola Aiyepeku, revealed that the idea is about the inclusion of all in sports saying: “We brought in the women, now we have stepped up by making sure that the physically challenged have their own platforms. This is just the first.”
He continued: “This is a clear statement from Lagos State showing that it is not only about getting the reward, but also giving them the regular competitions so that they can improve and do it better for Nigeria.”
On his part, the Director General of Lagos State Sports Commission, Oluwatoyin Gafaar, said: “The initiative is in line with the “THEMES” agenda of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, which includes bringing both male and female, able and physically challenged athletes, for sports development. “
Lagos under Sanwo-Olu’s administration is strategically positioned as the country’s sports hub and the all-inclusive programme of his government is reinforcing it.
ANOTHER GOAL SCORED BY SANWO
In case you missed it, though it was done in the secret but it is now out in the open, one of Nigeria’s football heroes Henry Nwosu recently suffered a health challenge, and guess what? Gov Sanwo-Olu personally paid for all of Henry’s huge medical and other bills without seeking credit and publicity.
That is the personality of a man whose exemplary leadership and display of empathy in a time of trial can not be questioned. He appreciates the labour of our heroes past and he is working hard to give the teeming population of Lagos a befitting future through his landmark projects which are strategically located in every division of the state.
Jide Olaniran is a broadcaster and Sports enthusiast.