30th April, 2012
It is no longer news that a ten -man Chelsea FC of England team eventually did the un-imaginable by bundling cup favourites, Barcelona FC of Spain, out of the final of this year’s money spinning UEFA Champions League. Before the match, no one gave Chelsea any chance of surmounting the Barcelona hurdle, not even the most fanatic of Chelsea supporters. The reason for this, however, is not far-fetched. In the last three years, Barcelona FC, fondly called Barca by its teeming fans, has held the entire soccer world spell bound with its ‘sexy’, beautiful and highly un-conventional style of play. To underscore the great awe with which the entire soccer world hold FC Barcelona, before it was demystified by a ten- man Chelsea team, many soccer fans referred to its players as extra-ordinary human beings with unusual capacity to do the unthinkable with the round leather object. Similarly, before now, Messi, a three- time consecutive World Footballer of the Year and the arrow-head of the dreadful Barca awesome machines was a one-man rioting squad who could single-handedly orchestrate the complete annihilation of any team, was considered in many quarters as ‘Abami Eda’, literarily a strange creature, in respect of his unbelievable football artistry.
Now that Barca has been brought back to earth in such a dramatic fashion by a compact and resolute Chelsea team, it is imperative to consider some of the major fall-outs of the match, especially as it relates to our country, Nigeria. First, it is quite alarming that Nigerian soccer fans are taking their passion for European club football to a ridiculous extent. Killing, maiming and committing all forms of atrocities to express one’s obsession for European football is, to say the least, stupid and worrisome. Media reports, after the Chelsea and Barcelona match, indicated that a Barca fan, obviously out of shock, died of heart attack while a fan was reportedly killed in a fans’ war that ensued after the match. It beats one’s imagination why Nigerian fans should kill themselves over such a thing that they have no stake in. If, after the match, players on both sides could exchange pleasantries with one another, what business did our fans have killing and maiming one another over a soccer match? The international media did not report that any mayhem occurred among the fans of the two teams after the match. Now, why should overzealous Nigerian fans go ahead causing chaos all over the place? Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea, according to recent media report, has promised to pay each of the Chelsea players a sum of Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Pounds if they eventually rule Europe. It is yet to be seen, what will be the gains for their Nigerian fans if the cup is eventually won.
Similarly, it is quite clear that, globally, football has become a money spinning sport. The organisation and management of football in Europe, for instance, is a multi million dollars venture with all the teams running other sports related businesses. Indeed, all sorts of professionals-doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, grass men, scouts, etc. are employed by the various teams in their drive for soccer glory. Therefore, football, in Europe, has gone beyond the mere recreational activity that it is in Nigeria. As a result of the excellent manner it is managed in Europe, youths across the continent have found in football a means through which they could use their talents to escape poverty. Young players such as Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas, Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi among others-thanks to football-have become multi millionaires before they clocked the age of twenty-one.
Ironically, in Nigeria, what we have is the exact opposite of what operates in Europe. The once exciting Nigeria local league, that produced household names like Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amaesimeka, Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi, Rashidi Yekini among others, has become a shadow of itself. Hitherto widely followed teams such as Stationery Stores, Spartans of Owerri, Rovers of Kano, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, etc have gone into extinction while popular European clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, AC Milan etc have been in existence for over hundred years. Unlike in Europe, where the clubs are purely run as business ventures, clubs in Nigeria are mostly run by governments on a non- profit making basis. Unfortunately, football administrators in the country are mostly only interested in fighting over the paltry funds that come from government rather than creatively and passionately evolving strategies to lift the game. This is why, some of our footballers travel to less known footballing nations such as Bangladesh, Sudan, India among others to further their careers.
Like the story of the degeneration of other segments of the country, our passage to soccer extinction started when we decided to allow sporting facilities across the country to waste away. The decay of sporting infrastructure in the country is partly responsible for the waning status of sports in the country as our sportsmen and women no longer have access to the required training facilities. This is why, in recent times, some of our most talented sportsmen opt to represent other countries where access to world-class facilities is limitless. How do you raise a generation of new athletes without creating the enabling environment? That is the tragedy that has befallen the country’s sporting prospect.
Similarly, the continual neglect of sports in the grassroots and the abandonment of school sports are also responsible for the decline of football in the country. Today, most schools in the country do not have space for games and sports. The private schools are more culpable in this respect as they use every available space to construct class rooms. Gone are the days when quality attention was given to school sports. The glorious days of sports in Nigeria witnessed the discovery of budding talents from school sporting competitions such as NUGA, Principal Cup, Manuwa Adebajo Soccer Championships among others.
If we are to offer the teeming youth in the country an opportunity to fulfill their God given potentials, we must change our attitude to sports. There is need for a complete overhauling of all sporting facilities in the country . Since it seems those saddled with overseeing the nation’s prime sporting facilities are overwhelmed with the enormity of the responsibility, government can resort to the PPP model. Similarly, the private sector needs to take more active part in the project to restore the nation’s lost glory in sports. All over the world, the initiatives and funds that drive sports come from the private sector. With the needed private sector drive, moribund school sports competitions across the country could be resuscitated.
Finally, in view of its money spinning prospect, governments across the country should focus on sports development at the grassroots. Lagos State is leading in this regards with the recently inaugurated Lagos State Sports Endowment Fund which is geared at taking sports to all parts of the state. The state government has also resuscitated competitions such as the Principals’ Cup among secondary schools, the School Sports Festival, the State Sport Festival, the U- 13 Soccer Championship, the U-15 Swimming Competition, Governor’s Cup, the International Squash Racket Competition, MTN Street Soccer, Oba Cup, among others.
It is only in doing this that we can discover new sports heroes, revive sports and tackle the twin issues of job creation and youth restiveness in the country.
•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.