The quest for autonomy by sport governing bodies in Nigeria has not been an easy one. The recent decision by the Minister for Sports, Mr. Sunday Akin Dare, to dissolve the governing boards of 31 sports federations in the country has not gone down well in some quarters. One of the sports federations affected is the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF) and as a consequence, the world governing body, World Rugby has communicated their disapproval, with a warning that the NRFF could be suspended from participation in international rugby competitions and activities as well as the freezing of all World Rugby funding to Rugby in Nigeria.
Even though the Government of the country has been largely responsible for funding the sport domestically with the NRFF dependent on the Government, World Rugby considers the action of the Minister to be political interference in the affairs of the NRFF, which contravenes their statutes and regulations. This, yet again, raises the issue of sports governing bodies showing no financial independence, relying on government funding, yet demanding autonomy from the government.
The concept of autonomy is the bedrock of the sport governing bodies. These governing codes usually include in their regulatory framework the prohibition of political or third-party interference. Such interference has been seen to negatively affect the growth and development of sport. Hence, the aim is to prohibit interference in the governance of sport, while ensuring that the processes are in line with the approved statutes and regulatory requirements of the relevant governing body.
Although it is clear that both sport governing bodies and Government need each other, it is important to understand the concept of autonomy of sport governing bodies or the division of powers, in order for both to work hand-in-hand. It is important for government to understand its role in the governance of sport in order to avert the recurring cases of threats of suspension of national sport governing bodies as a result of political interference. It is inimical not only to the sport governing body but also to the athletes, whose careers and participation are often jeopardized when they are denied the opportunity to perform their sport and showcase their abilities.
What can be done to Remedy the Situation in Nigeria?
There is a need for balance between the role of government and of the sports governing bodies. This should include a clear framework for understanding their respective roles. The importance of government supervision and public funding for sports governing bodies is globally acknowledged; however, in the modern day, sport is required to be governed by an autonomous organization.
There should be some form of legal framework regulating the governance of sports in Nigeria, clearly stating legal and corporate requirements for competent sport governing bodies and eliminating all forms of interference. For instance, a typical sport federation should be required to be a corporate private entity, separate from the Government. Also, where Government sponsors or funds a sport federation, there should be a clear framework for the purpose, benefits as well as assessments of the use and impact of such funds (e.g. a Sports Governance Code)
Government intervention in sport should only arise to ensure the implementation of public health and safety, enforcement of rights and protection of legal interests, particularly where there has been a fundamental failure in the processes or procedure of sport governing bodies.
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