The University of Port-Harcourt otherwise known as UNIPORT has for many years maintained its pre-eminence in sporting activities in the West Africa sub-region being for instance, consistent overall winners of the quadrennial Nigeria University Games (NUGA).
But the institution’s exploits are not limited to the pitch alone since the institution has equally established its leading position in academic pursuits as well. Way back in 2014, the institution’s senate approved the establishment of the famous University of Port Harcourt Sports Institute as a center for advanced research in Sports Science, Sports Medicine and Sports Technology with obvious set objectives.
The well-articulated objectives of the institute were stated inter alia: ‘to make the University of Port Harcourt the choice destination in West Africa, for Sports Science research and high performance and to create opportunities for community-based sports and recreation programmers.’
“The University of Port Harcourt have proved over the past twenty years that they are a leader in sports development of athletes and facilities,” China Acheru, an alumnus of UNIPORT and currently the Head of News & Programmed at Port Harcourt-based Wish 99.5 FM, told The Nation. “On the field, they have dominated the NUGA and West Africa University Games for over 20 years and facilities wise; they have the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Nigeria.”
Remarked Professor Emeritus Nimi Briggs, Chairman, and University of Port Harcourt Sports Institute Board: “The evolution of sports development in the University of Port Harcourt has been progressive which has manifested in excellent facilities and impressive performance by the University’s athletes. Our focus now with this partnership is to transform the University into the hub of Sports in Africa.”
Today, the UNIPORT Sports Institute is renowned for its academic excellence with offerings in diverse fields including Post Graduate Diplomas in Sports Medicine, Sports Massage, Sports Marketing, Sports Broadcasting / Journalism, Fitness and Recreation amongst others.
But Dr. Gabriel Ken Gadaffi, the founder cum CEO of Cambodia-based Rising Stars International Academy who doubles as the Director of the UNIPORT Sports Institute, explained that there was need to chart a new vista since digitalization is now a way of life globally, adding the institute with its usual leading role in sport development is now ready to strengthen its drive towards digitalization of sports.
“It’s rather unfortunate that sports in Nigeria has declined in recent times; most sports administrators today are still under the illusion that Nigeria sports is what it used to be about two to three decades ago which unfortunately is not so anymore,” explained Gadaffi, the founder of KG Sports Academy. “Let’s take school sports for example, it’s totally dead. Where are the primary school games? What about the annual inter house sports in secondary schools, the principal cups or even the university games which are no longer held? So, the cradle of sports development is totally bastardised.”
Foremost scientist Albert Einstein is widely credited as saying that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results’ hence digitalization is now the new order in today’s world.
At its 2019 ISPO Digitise Summit in Munich, an annual conference highlighting the potentials of digitalization of sports business, Christoph Rapp, International Sales & Retail Manager at ISPO, was of the view that digitalization has given a rocket-like boost to the sporting world.
“The sports industry is facing major challenges but how can digital technologies be brought together with this industry and used sustainably?” remarked Rapp. “Digitalization is a topic that affects all industries, and the sports industry is no exception, too, with all the challenges and opportunities that digitalization offers.”
Rapp’s views were equally shared by Gadaffi, saying that Nigerian sports must embrace the new realities in order to move forward: “Sport digitalization is not only crucial but inevitable.
“The world we live in today is now digitally inclined and Nigeria is already far behind and may not catch up because things are moving pretty fast than we can catch up.
“For our sports to develop to international standards, we need to brace technology starting from documentations and getting records straight.
“Sports administrators and coaches should be able to look up athletes and players’ profiles with just a click; clubs and sporting associations need to develop proper website and platforms that can enhance their marketability
“The Average man on the street today has a smartphone, Nigeria has over a 100m mobile phone users and that is a huge number to tap into if sports is properly digitalized for the Nigerian audience to cash in,” he posited in his usual frankness.
It is in recognition of this systemic failure that sport digitalization is being viewed critically in the forthcoming new national sports industry policy being put together by the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports Development (FMYSD).
Accordingly, views of Dr. Sadiq Abubakar Abdullahi-one of the drivers behind the new initiative of the FMYSD-are germane: “Sports and the digital economy captures the essence of digitalization of sports in the thrust of the FMYSD and much more; and some of the areas include digital sports media, E-sports, E-Commerce in sports, and the globalization of sports.
“Honourable Minister Sunday Dare is paying close attention to the implications of digitalization of sports as it relates to the overall development, improvement and sustainability of sports in Nigeria,” noted the US-based visiting Professor at the Federal University Kashere in Gombe State, Nigeria.
But frankly, few in Nigerian sporting milieu are as forward-looking as Emeka Enyadike who can be likened to ‘the man who usually sees tomorrow’ with his constant innovations as per the use of technology.
For instance, Enyadike started a revolution in print sport journalism along with his South African partners with the introduction of Kick off Magazine into the Nigerian mark in the early 2000. Now holding forte as the Director of Sports Africa and CEO of Vandykesports, Enyadike said Nigerian sports more than ever before needs a new way of thinking.
“Sports are the only sphere of our national and even state and local life that mirrors the overall political landscape and in need of serious transformation,” noted Enyadike who had long established himself as a TV broadcaster and a recognizable face across Africa on SuperSport. “We need to look at the other sectors and industries, banking, telecommunications, insurance, education, entertainment especially, no one is buying albums, music and movies are being streamed but in sports, its analogue reasoning but our federations, clubs and officials need to embrace technology.”
Of course, Enyadike most often than not had always walked his talk and it his desire to see that Nigerian sport embrace new realities the reason behind his new sports development platform in partnership with UNIPORT and German-based RESULT Sports in order to create a sport technology hub on the continent.
“The university is an enabler for education and research but our focus is on how to impact the continent through the Nigeria ecosystem and it is a long-term partnership with an initial build stage of five years,” he explained.
“UNIPORT has a record of sports excellence, an amazing sports Institute and a history of successful long term partnerships that have helped drive change in Africa like their petroleum Institute is arguably the best in Africa; and we have a long term relationship with them spanning over two decades so this is a new chapter.”
Of course, it has been well argued that two good heads are better than one and Enyadike said the importance of strategic partnerships in business and sporting business in particular can never be overemphasised, adding the marriage between Vandykesports and RESULT Sports is like a marriage made in heaven.
He offered: “We have already delivered the biggest data driven research with RESULT Sports to create the African Football Digital Benchmark which is the global resource for African economic outlook, not just football or sports but it showed the international business community that it is possible to accurately measure fan engagement and customer base on the continent.
“This we have achieved over the last three years using artificial intelligence and helped in part by the joint leadership of Mario Leo and myself with our extensive global experience and expertise from other industries before coming into sports.”
Mario, the CEO of RESULT Sports, a digital company with partnership with notable clubs in Europe including Manchester City, Juventus, AS Roma, Borussia Dortmund, FC Bayern, Shakhtar Donetsk amongst others explained how crucial is sports digitalization for Nigerian clubs and sports.
“A lot of athletes, clubs, leagues in federations in Sub-Sahara have not yet identified the strategic significance (of sport digitalization);there is still a believe classical media as we knew it for three, four centuries are key,” affirmed Mario who has been working with European football governing body as the UEFA GROW Mentor to support the National Associations across Europe.
“They are important, of course, but with a strategic digital approach an athlete, club, league or federation can communicate and engage with a fan base any time, for information, communication, marketing, ticketing, events and many, many more aspects.
“Club like Al Ahly, Zamalek (in Egypt); Raja Club or Wydad (Morocco) capture each already an audience of ten million plus on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google and other social platforms; this will allow them direct involvement, placement of offerings and a direct revenue stream.
“It tells a huge story, that Vandrezzer FC, a fairly new club in Nigeria, not even playing NPFL, puts all their efforts on digital to make their club ‘famous’ and they are the biggest one in Nigeria whereas Enyimba, the record champion does not yet have unlocked this huge potential.”
At the center of RESULT Sport work is an all-encompassing project across Africa of which Nigeria is an important orbit according to Mario: “We are building three centres across Africa. We are very well represented in South Africa. Nigeria is our base for Western Africa and the partnership with UNIPORT is very important and for both partners a huge milestone.
“We are very proud to be part of this initiative, as digital aspects in our life increase almost daily. We are planning educational course programs, working closely with UNIPORT to develop and include these modules and programs into the offering. I am confident we will see late autumn the first offerings and in the beginning of the new semester in 2021 a huge variety of offerings will be visible.”
Enyadike expectedly maintained that tripartite partnership amongst UNIIPORT, Vandykesports and RESULT Sports would undoubtedly unlock the potentialities of Nigerian sports:
“We are ready to drive our initiative through the University of Port Harcourt because they are equipped to support the educational part of it but with our international partners, we will show what is being done elsewhere and how we can create our own home-grown solutions.
“We will run with the UNIPORT Sports Institute a series of short courses eventually transforming them to academic programs at undergraduate and postgraduate programs in sports Innovation, digital sports media, sportstech and sports performance programs for coaches, referees, administrators and sports marketing and communications personnel.”
The UNIPORT-Vandykesports-RESULT Sports resourcefulness is well acknowledged by foremost sport journalist, former Sport Editor of The Guardian and founder of sportsvillage.com, Kunle Solaja: “It is a good development which I believe will ultimately raise our sports in all ramifications-performances, marketing and giving it academic content.”
Similarly, Andrew Randa, a lecturer and freelance football writer remarked: “Vandykesports have been in the forefront of providing digital solutions to sports issues and this deal with the University of Port-Harcourt is well thought out; this will go a long way in helping the administrators fashion out modalities that will help their clubs in the short and long term.
“This isn’t just limited to football; other sports can also key into this while from an academic perspective, it will give Nigerian scholars an opportunity to get raw data that they can use for their research and the sports and sports business industry,” noted Randa who doubles as Nigeria national U-20 team media officer.
Similarly, Deji Omotoyinbo, a sport analyst and broadcasting teacher concurred: “Sports Institutes are meant for research and development in all areas of Sport.
“I haven’t been to UNIPORT before but I hear they have a good sports/athletes program, I guess this (partnership) is meant to try and widen the scope of the institute along with the latest technology trends,” he said.
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