Sports, since time immemorial, have served as a universal language of unity, camaraderie, and friendliness. It engrains punctuality, patience, discipline, and teamwork. perseverance and dedication while improving mental and physical health and wellbeing. Often overlooked in proportion to its importance, sports law bridges the gap between athletics and governance, safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders in the sports industry.
In Nigeria, the development of a comprehensive legal framework for sports has experienced steady growth over the decades. However, it is essential to acknowledge that more efforts are needed to enhance this sector further, especially in the modern era replete with novel challenges and prospects.
Sports law in Nigeria was initially an underdeveloped area, its importance unrecognized due to the perceived triviality of sports. For many years, sports were governed by ad hoc policies, rules, and regulations that were mostly marred by irregularities and inconsistencies. It was widely accepted that sporting disputes should be resolved on the turf, not courtrooms, further undermining the necessity for a legal framework. As the popularity of sports in Nigeria surged, the imperativeness of laws to govern the sector gradually began to dawn on relevant stakeholders.
The growth of sports law in Nigeria began to pick up speed in the late 20th century, parallel with the country’s sporting achievement on international platforms. The need to adopt global best practices in sports governance and dispute resolution became rather pressing. Ensuring fair play, and protecting athletes’ rights and the integrity of the process cultivated the ground for a robust legal framework. Incremental changes characterized this phase of development, with regulations put in place to govern athletic competitions and prevent ethical infringements. In recent years, the steady growth of legislation to govern sports in Nigeria has been increasingly noticeable. It is a direct result of the resurgence in the popularity and relevance of sports. The Nigerian Sports Commission Act, Nigerian Football Association act, and various laws regulating sports federations are exemplary illustrations of the country’s progress in creating an enabling legal environment for sports.
HISTORY OF SPORTS LAW IN NIGERIA
The development of sports law in Nigeria can be interpreted as a journey in tune with the country’s sporting advancements. This development process was by far an organic one, evolving from simple informal agreements to a structured and regulated system, taking fruitful lessons and integrating concepts from countries with a long history of sports law. Sports law is a diverse discipline that governs professional sports, including regulations and legal principles applicable to sporting activities. As a nation endowed with significant sporting talents and a rich sporting culture, Nigeria has evolved a manner of grappling with legal complexities that arise in this sphere. Sports law in Nigeria is a progression narrative that gradually developed alongside the advancement of sports as an economic industry in Nigeria.
The history of sports law in Nigeria is a fascinating account, riddled with dynamism, complexities, and captivating identities. While sports have always held a revered place in Nigerian society and culture, the legislative underpinnings propelling the sports sector are intriguing.
The inception of Nigerian sports law can be traced to its roots to the era when Nigeria was under British colonial rule. Between 1861 and 1960, sports in Nigeria were largely unregulated, informal, and traditional.
However, the growing popularity of sports like football marked the dawn of the nation’s journey with sports law. Various football contests organised during the colonial period needed rules for governance, triggering the first steps towards shaping Nigeria’s sports legal framework. Since the colonial era, Nigeria has started experiencing a significant shift in its sports sector. The country strived to develop a sports framework that mirrored its growing socio-political identity and aspirations.
The Nigerian Football Association (“NFA”), established in 1945 under the guise of the colonial, was given a complete makeover to reflect the country’s newfound status thus, cementing Nigeria’s initial steps in upgrading its sports law..The governance of sports in Nigeria was largely unregulated before the 1980s, with matters generally left to the discretion of relevant sporting bodies. Around the 1980s, pageantry of sports became more passionate in Nigeria, necessitating the establishment of regional and national sports bodies. These early bodies operated informally, under simple informal agreements and without substantial legal backing. With the continual growth of these regional and national sports bodies came the need for formal rules and guidelines to ensure fairness and discipline which led to the establishment of federal sporting institutions, necessitating the need for national and local laws to govern sports. The 1971 establishment of the National Sports Commission (“NSC”), by the National Sports Commission Act, No. 34 of 1971 (“NSC Act”) marked a notable government foray into sports regulation. The NSC was specifically tasked with devising plausible sporting policies, strategies, and implementing the “National Sports Policy of Nigeria”. Whilst the NSC Act was seen as a landmark act, it was nonetheless criticised for its limiting descriptors used in defining responsibilities, necessitating further amendment..These strides of the NSC Act legalised various aspects of sports in Nigeria, from instituting basic rules for different games to formalising player contracts and transfer systems. The legal framework and Legislation aimed at setting sports on a firmer legal trajectory started emerging in the 1990s following growing international criticism regarding the poor handling of sports-related issues.
The NFA charged with the regulation of football in Nigeria faced numerous challenges, including allegations of corruption, incompetence, and a lack of independence from government interference.
The NFA, in response to criticisms, was overhauled in 1999, resulting in the establishment of the Nigeria Football Federation (“NFF”) The responsibility of the NFF was to regulate, administer, and manage football in Nigeria. The Nigeria Football League (“NFL”), established in 1990, and the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF), established in 2007, were other noteworthy developments. The leagues had to follow rules that bore resemblances with international sports laws while catering to Nigerian idiosyncrasies. This led to the evolution of peculiar legal architectures such as arbitration panels in these sports, similar to global counterparts like Federation Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) and International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”).
The early 2000s marked a significant leapfrog in the history of Nigeria’s sports law, as the country saw a growth in the commercial aspect of sports. The commercial growth in sports prompted comparative study and borrowing of concepts from countries with long-standing sports law frameworks. Structure and rules akin to the European Union sports law were integrated into the Nigerian system, which revolutionised the laws and legal framework of sports within Nigeria. Amplifying the effort to define a legal trajectory for sports in Nigeria, the National Sports Commission (NSC) Act of 2004 was enacted. The NSC was mandated to coordinate and oversee the development and management of sports in Nigeria. With a mandate that stretches beyond football, the role of the NSC significantly expanded to embrace all sports.
The National Sports Development Policy, 2009 is also an integral part of sports law’s history in Nigeria.
This policy underscored the need for careful legal considerations in sports and promised to enhance the quality of sporting activities in the country. Another implication of commercialised sports is the increasing litigation in sports-related disputes in Nigeria. With professionalisation and commercialisation of sports, legal suits over aspects such as player transfers, breach of contracts and sport-related injuries became a norm, further necessitating the need for sports laws. A notable case is the lawsuit between the NFF and Chris Giwa, which involved a heated dispute about the NFF’s leadership. This case shed light on the complexities of Nigerian sports law, the significance of compliance with international sports bodies, the importance of internal democracy within sports associations, and the need for well-defined legal structures. Modern-day sports law in Nigeria is an intricate mix of legislation, institutional regulation, and case law.
As Nigeria strives to better position itself in the international sporting arena, the need for a specialized sports law regime is more apparent than ever before. The history of sports law in Nigeria points to a hopeful future, one oriented towards the realization of the country’s substantial sporting talents. Overall, the journey of sports law in Nigeria, to date, has been one of gradual but notable progress. Although fraught with challenges, the evolution of this field has gone a long way in bringing some form of regulation to the Nigerian sports industry. Not only does this history hint at future legal developments in the sports field, but it also points to the broader potential of sports as a tool for national unity, cultural exchange, and social development.
THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF SPORTS IN NIGERIA
The legal framework of sports in Nigeria is as diverse as it is complex, making it an integral part of the Nigerian judicial system. It lays the foundation for the regulation, governance, and promotion of sporting activities across the country. However, the undeniable need for legal reform that aligns with global best practices is pivotal to maximise the potential that sports offer as a unifying force in Nigeria. The field of sports law in Nigeria is a unique blend of constitutional, labour, corporate, contractual, and tort laws. As an emerging area of legal practice, sports law has implications for a wide array of stakeholders, ranging from sports personalities and fans, to sponsors, sports governing bodies, and the government. The sphere of sports in Nigeria is encompassed by a diverse array of laws and regulations, all designed to govern and regulate different aspects ranging from amateur to professional sporting activities.
As a sector in its infancy, its course in Nigeria is gradually being charted as a Commonwealth country, Nigeria inherited most of its legal structures, including sports law, from British colonial rule. These laws have continually been modified, improved, and domesticated to suit the country’s evolving socio-cultural and economic realities. Sports law in Nigeria is mainly governed by two legal regime sources.
These include statutory legislation and regulatory bodies’ guidelines, with the Ministry of Youth and Sports situated at the forefront of affairs.
The legal milieu of Nigerian sports showcases an interesting blend of national and international laws mediated by regulatory bodies’ guidelines. However, several scholars have advocated for an upgrade in the legal architecture of Nigerian sports. This reform is deemed necessary to mitigate issues such as lack of transparency, poor financial management, and corruption plaguing the Nigerian sporting sector.
A. The Nigerian Sports Commission Act:
The Nigerian Sports Commission Act is the central legislative piece governing sports in Nigeria. This Act principally provides for the establishment of a National Sports Commission; established in 1971 to manage sports activities, ensuring harmony and the proper representation of Nigeria in the international sporting arena. This statutory document outlines the composition, functions, powers, and structure of the National Sports Commission, which promotes, facilitates and provides adequate resources to propel sports at all levels in Nigeria. The Commission’s primary role is to develop, encourage, and effectively manage competitive and non-competitive sports in Nigeria. The Act further grants the Commission the latitude to present National Sports Policy recommendations to the government, suggesting that the Nigerian Sports Commission Act is the bedrock of sports administration and legal regulation in Nigeria.
B. Nigerian Football Association Act
The Nigerian Football Association Act is an extensive legal instrument designed specifically to govern football-related activities in Nigeria, the country’s most popular sport. Its advent has greatly impacted Nigerian football, imbuing it with a sense of direction and uniformity, encouraging the sport’s steady growth.
C. The Labour Act
To ensure a seamless and harmonious relationship between athletes and their employers, labour laws are duly applied. The Labour Act, primarily, is the chief source of employment law in Nigeria, and it also finds applicability in sports law. The Act provides a framework for the contractual engagement of an athlete, including the terms of service, termination of the contract and entitlements of an athlete.
D. Sports Betting Regulation
The National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) regulates sports betting activities in Nigeria. It ensures the licensing and monitoring of betting operators, protects the interests of consumers and promotes responsible gambling practices.
E. Ministry of Youth and Sports Development
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is the government body responsible for the overall development and regulation of sports in Nigeria. It formulates policies, provides guidance, and oversees the implementation of sports-related activities in the country.
F. Sports Federations and Associations:
Various sports federations and associations are responsible for the development and governance of specific sports disciplines in Nigeria. These bodies are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and are required to comply with the relevant laws and regulations. The Nigerian Institute for Sports (NIS) is responsible for the training, certification, and professional development of sports administrators, coaches, and athletes. The NIS offers various courses and programs aimed at improving the overall standards of sports in Nigeria. Nigeria’s legal framework is not limited to its internal scope but also involves international regulatory bodies like FIFA. Requirements and regulations issued by these organisations are part of the country’s sports regulatory backdrop. Moreover, sports clubs, associations, and organisations in Nigeria follow documented constitutions, codes, regulations, and rules that promote a robust and healthy sports culture.
Moreover, sports sponsorship and endorsements in Nigeria are the country’s sports law’s significant concerns. They are governed by standard contractual principles embodied in common law, specific statutory policies like the Nigerian Communications Commission Act and associated regulations regarding advertising and endorsements. Apart from the foregoing, there are a plethora of other laws, either federal or state, that provide for the management and regulation of a variety of sports activities in Nigeria. Examples include Nigerian Boxing Board of Control Act, amongst others.
Nigeria is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Agency Code and has established the Nigerian Anti-Doping Commission (“NADC”). The NADC is responsible for implementing anti-doping policies, conducting tests, and enforcing sanctions for doping violations in sports. Furthermore, in the case of sports-related litigation, tort law becomes relevant. For instance, in the instance of a sports injury, a personal injury claim may be brought against whoever is adjudged liable.
This approach is no different from any other injury claim outside the realm of sports. Suffice it to say that the interwoven segments of Nigerian law regarding sports may sometimes create conflicts and confusion, primarily due to its compartmentalized structure. Sorting out these overlaps and loopholes will inevitably require rethinking and consolidation of the relevant legal framework. However, it’s important to note that this consolidation is not without its challenges. For instance, without a single Nigerian Sports Law Act, there remains uncertainty about the jurisdiction and legal precedence. A singular consolidating Act central to sports would provide a unified approach to deal with all sports-related legal issues. Thus, while sports law in Nigeria is an evolving field that presents exciting opportunities for all its stakeholders, it is clear that the guiding laws need to be improved upon to offer clarity.
Legal practitioners, policy-makers, sporting institutions, and athletes in Nigeria will need to continue steering this ship’s course in the right direction by focusing more on creating a unified Sports
Law Act that concisely and comprehensively presents Nigerian sports law.
It is important to note that despite the significant strides made in the development of sports laws in Nigeria, much work remains to be done. A surface-level review of the existing legal framework shows it is fraught with inadequacies. The sports legal system often lacks the depth, detail, and precision necessary to handle the complex issues arising from modern sporting practices. Further, inadequate implementation and enforcement of existing laws often result in widespread impunity and recurring breaches of athletes’ rights. Moreover, these laws are generally reactive rather than proactive. They are majorly fashioned to deal with problems as they arise instead of anticipating and forestalling them. As a result, they are far behind the rapid advancements taking place in international sports, which is constantly evolving beyond the existing regulatory scope.
In light of these challenges, it is increasingly clear that there is much room for improvement in the expansion of sports law in Nigeria. Key areas that require stress include periodic review and amendment of existing laws, stronger enforcement mechanisms, and robust policies that protect players’ rights. A proactive, comprehensive legal framework would lay the foundation for consistent growth and development of sports in Nigeria, engendering national pride and unity. The steady growth in the legal framework of sports law in Nigeria is a commendable development. However, Nigeria must confront the challenges stifling the full actualization of this development. By dynamically improving on existing legislation and aligning Nigeria’s sports law with global best practices, the sports industry can foster a competitive and fair environment for all stakeholders.
Thus, the scope, detail, and efficiency of Nigeria’s sports law should correspond with the rapidly evolving global sports landscape, prioritizing the protection and development of athletes and the integrity of sport. The journey may be long, but with steady strides, Nigeria’s sports law can potentially rival that of more developed countries in the foreseeable future.
This Article Was Written By: Daniel K. Kip a Legal Practitioner, Notary Public, Arbitrator, Rights Activist & Writer.