Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State has urged African countries to look inward and explore the possibility of using sports to grow their economies, saying it remains a veritable tool to foster growth and development.
Ambode said this on Friday when he received some top African football legends at the Lagos House in Alausa, Ikeja.
The soccer legends will be participating in a testimonial match on Saturday at the Agege Stadium in honour of the governor as he prepares to exit office.
They include Kanu Nwankwo, Finidi George, Victor Ikpeba, El Hadji Diouf, Diomansy Kamara, Didier Zokora, Khalilou Fadiga Austin Eguavoen, Mutiu Adepoju, Waidi Akanni, Uche Okechuku and Seydou Keita.
Ambode said the sense of brotherhood in sports must be played up for the benefit of the continent in terms of scaling up the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of African countries.
He recalled an initiative of his administration known as Project T.H.E.S.E which stands for Tourism, Hospitality, Entertainment and Arts and Sports for Excellence.
Ambode said right from inception, machinery was set rolling to use sports to grow the economy and tourism in Lagos.
“We have always used sports to build bridges, and there is this sense of brotherhood anytime that you switch on your television and there is an African playing on any line-up, be it Liverpool, be it Tottenham.
“That feeling is always there and that brotherhood is something that we can use to grow the economies of African nations.
“I had this dream when I came in as governor that I could use sports, tourism, entertainment and arts with some sense of hospitality to promote excellence.
“So, I had something called Project T.H.E.S.E and my dream was to catalyse everything around sports and use it to build tourism and also grow the GDP of Lagos.
“So, that was the dream and why we promoted as many sporting activities as possible, so that we could create a platform for tourism which made many people to travel here, and just like you have come now,” he said.
The governor said though four years may not be enough to do everything, he was grateful to God for the opportunity to serve the people, just as he expressed optimism that the next administration would take it up, improve on it and ensure that the dream and vision for sports development does not die.
“I am very honoured that you are all here in Lagos to celebrate with me as I finish my tenure in Lagos State. This match is not only for me but for the good of humanity.
“We are not promoting it because we want to make money out of it, but we are actually showcasing the fact that there is still something to be done about sports development in Africa, and then particularly in Nigeria.
“We have lost a lot of resources and economic growth because people cannot match sports with the economy, and that is the mis-match that we are having here.
“I mean, the question is why do I have to travel to Madrid to go and watch La Liga, meanwhile I will pay airline, pay for hotel and grow the economy of Spain? That is what Africa has to find out,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the footballers, Diouf thanked Gov. Ambode for the opportunity given him and others to be in Nigeria to see the fans, vowing to run the show with exciting display during the match on Saturday.
Also speaking, Aliou Goloko, a French sports journalist, said Ambode deserved to be commended and appreciated for making Lagos a safe place.
He said that the soccer legends were also drawing inspiration from the purposeful leadership of the governor.
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