Unemployment: Sport as a Vessel for Socio-Economic Change in Africa

Africa's unemployment problem has been the subject of so many debates in recent years because the youth are the most affected on the continent. Youth unemployment rate refers to the percentage of the unemployed in the age group 18 to 35 as compared to the total labour force.

In Nigeria, for instance, the unemployment rate is often higher than overall Africa's average due to the country's total population. According to reliable data, by demographics, over 60% of the population of Nigeria are youths. However, most of these youths are without gainful employment, many of them vulnerable and out of any significant social welfare system. This situation also exists in many African countries such as Namibia, Angola, South Africa, Cameroon, and Mozambique, to mention a few.

With the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, economic outlook of several countries has been dampened, with consequent economic and higher unemployment rates. Because the number of cases continues to escalate through community transmission, the uncertainty of the situation keeps increasing within the populace, particularly in Africa where government stimulus efforts are either minimal or nonexistent.

Therefore, in addition to the life-threatening and health risks of the pandemic, the socio-economic impact is real, most importantly with many workers likely to continue facing job losses, job cuts, salary cuts or no-income and redundancy. In fact, the actual rate of unemployment could be another massive shock if the Covid-19 outbreak persists beyond the year 2020. The projected combined consequences of Covid-19 and youth unemployment is severe and damaging to any nation. For instance, before now, unemployment has been a rising phenomenon in Nigeria, as many of the youths are jobless, to the extent that the government itself may not know the rate of youth unemployment precisely.

The young girls have also proven their worth on the African Continent (C) BBC

Therefore, with the global risk Covid-19 outbreak portends, now in the year 2020, it is inevitable that the unemployment rate as well as the poverty rate will go further up and might be on a steady path of escalation. However, the eventual scale of growth or outcome will depend on how fast governments contain the spread of the virus in Africa.

Grippingly opportunities for jobs for these youths are hardly available due to the high population, inadequate training that is not market-oriented, and economic recession, which are some of the factors that have prevented these young people from finding gainful employment. The Covid-19 outbreak is also expected to increase the woes of the youths exponentially by escalating the already staggering unemployment rates on the continent. It may even lead to social exclusion, lack of confidence, poorer health, and a rise in depression amongst the youths. These are but a few of the negative aspects associated with young people being out of work.

It is recognized that there have been many initiatives by governments and heads of state in Africa to address the increased youth unemployment. However, to avoid the impacts of unemployment with consequences which include a surge in the prevalence rate of crimes and criminality, it is recommended that sports participation be encouraged by African governments and policymakers. Such participation of young people in economic and social areas will have a great significance for the countries’ development and improvement.

Africa needs to see sports as a business and a way to promote healthy and promising citizenry. Sports, more importantly, is one of the easiest avenues for young men to quit the poverty lane and unemployment. It is important to note that with sports, the teeming youths can become athletes and be gainfully employed. Besides, there will be more job opportunities and commercialization on the continent for companies, investors, talent scouts, agents, coaches, referees, trainers, sports analysts, media companies, facilities management companies, sportswear companies, and merchandisers. A pleasant sports environment will equally encourage partnerships between businesses and sporting entities such as what is visible with stadia bearing the names of companies and sponsorship deals with company logos appearing on athletes' clothing and equipment and so on in the developed countries around the world. Studies have shown that sports can provide a reduced risk from alcohol use, smoking, terrorism, criminality, and illicit drug use amongst young people versus those who do not indulge in sports.

That said, it is quite challenging to estimate the exact number of sports or games around the world today. However, a reliable report has shown that there are more than 8000 sports in the world. Yet, there are roughly 200 sports that have international recognition through a reliable international governing body. Nonetheless, the Olympics, which is the pinnacle of sports, has only validated 28 sports as of 2016. To give a general idea of some of the most participated sports using available data from the Olympics, we have adventure sports (kayaking, canoeing), aquatic sports (swimming, bodyboarding), strength, and agility sports, (aerobics, gymnastics), ball sports (baseball, basketball, football), mountain sports (climbing, cross-country cycling), and motorized sports (formula racing).

Most of these sporting types are lucrative career options, and in most developed countries, so much effort and resources are channeled into it. From a European perspective, sports-related employment represents a significant percentage of total employment on the continent.

The amount of investment and cash that several sports stars earn around the world is mind-blowing, from football to tennis, basketball, motorsport, and boxing, to name a few. Excellent examples are Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua, Nigerian-born British boxer (world heavyweight boxing champion), who commands more than £30 million for every fight. This is apart from several endorsements he enjoys. Another athlete is Divine Oduduru, the second-fastest African athlete earning around N180 million yearly. Nigeria's top table tennis player, Aruna Quadri, has started the year 2020 as the 18th best player in the world and doing well with the sport.  Likewise, John Obi Mikel, Odion Jude Ighalo, Victor Moses, Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Osimhen who are earners to reckon with in football. In ultimate fighting championship (UFC) and kickboxing career, the following Nigerian born individuals Kamoru Usman, Isreal Adesanya, Sodiq  Yusuff, and Kennedy Nzechukwu are active and dominance in the sport. According to the National Basketball Association (NBA) four of the players have Nigerian origin, and they are Al-Farouq Aminu, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chimezie Metu, and Josh Okogie.

Interestingly, these sportsmen and women get additional income from endorsements and sponsorships all over, which leads to additional millions of dollars in earnings. This situation is not only applicable to Nigerians, but to other African nationals. The point is that money will always flow to where the attention of the masses is, such as sports, particularly football, basketball, and boxing. 

In the same vein, according to compiled data by Forbes Magazine, some of the wealthiest athletes globally, are as follows: Floyd Mayweather (boxing), Tiger Woods (Golf), Lionel Messi (football), Christiano Ronaldo (football), Conor McGregor (kickboxing), Neymar (football). It is imperative to state categorically that most of these athletes probably never registered any startup businesses to gain prominence, but they are undeniably talented in what they do because of consistency and dedication. While talents are essential, a lot of seriousness, concentration, and motivation need to go into it to become a great successful athlete.

Therefore, for millions of African youths, particularly Nigerian youths, energy can be channeled into mastering and pursuing careers in several sports, just like we have seen in the entertainment and music industry. Without a doubt, it could lead to a strong sports culture and competitiveness in both domestic and foreign markets.

Admittedly, sport is a veritable outlet that can offer a pro-active solution to youth unemployment in Africa. This is because sport skills can be learned, developed, and made a professional career, and can provide a considerable positive impact. Nonetheless, for these to come into fruition, policymakers, sports associations, and governments need to make decisive and responsive policies to encourage aggressive youth participation in sports and learning programmes.  This will give the needed encouragement and guidance to sports interest and development in Africa. Besides, if a more professional approach is adopted in the sports industry, governments, too, will benefit and generate consistent income. It can even provide a new source of national economic growth and reduce sports tourism in developed countries.

Supportably, the various sports associations, should be designed to run professionally, with competent governing boards just like other major corporations. This will ensure adequate structure to guarantee adequate followership, which eventually will lead to huge sponsorship, great athletes, and substantial marketing revenues, among others. So many stakeholders -fans, advertisers, tv stations, investors, collaborators can equally benefit. Many of the functions within the sports industry are service based, which means it will be a labour-intensive industry.

In conclusion, sports can make a positive contribution in helping to increase Africa's labour numbers, eventually leading to the creation of sports that can provide cost-effective tools to address political agendas such as unemployment and health. It can also be an avenue to promote a healthier lifestyle amongst the teeming youths. Governments can develop sport policies and situate community hubs across cities to bridge the unemployment gap, where young people could come and improve their skills and become professional athletes.  Therefore, I see a tremendous opportunity for African countries and the citizens if they can adopt these principles and begin to design systems around sports and create well-paying jobs for millions of young people to strive.  Good Luck!

Dr. Timi Olubiyi, Entrepreneur and Small Business Expert

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Dr. Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management expert. He is a prolific investment coach, business engineer, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI), and a financial literacy specialist. He can be reached on the twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com, for any questions, reactions, and comments.