Super Eagles’ Performance As Springboard For Sports And National Development

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Super Eagles
Super Eagles

The nation has been in celebration mode in the last couple of days due to the superlative performance of the national team, the Super Eagles, at the just concluded 2023 African Cup of Nation held in Cote D’Ivoire. Though we came back home with a silver, both young and old, men and women temporarily forgot about the biting economic hardship in the land to celebrate the performance of the team. For now, the whole nation is united; we have forgotten about tribe, religion and ethnicity. Nobody is asking where the players come from. That is the power of football. In our national discourse now, the daily skyrocketing of the prices of garri, beans and rice have taken a backseat while we bask in the victory of our young lads.

Football is a game of passion, and the tournament in Cote D’Ivoire is not devoid of the frills and thrills. In the realm of sports, few games can match the electrifying atmosphere and global appeal of football. This beautiful game captivates millions of fans worldwide, uniting people from different cultures and backgrounds. With its blend of athleticism, skill, and strategic brilliance, football has become an unparalleled spectacle that keeps spectators on the edge of their seats.

Beyond the pitch, football holds a special place in society. It brings people together, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among fans. The passion exhibited by supporters, the intense rivalries between teams, and the shared moments of jubilation or heartbreak create a unique and lasting bond.

The tournament in Cote D’Ivoire does not lack any of these. The passion and the tension were so intense that five Nigerians were reported to have lost their lives watching the Nigeria Vs South African match at the Semi-final stage of the tournament. A former lawmaker, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh’s heart gave up on him while he was watching the match. It was the same sad occurrence with the deputy bursar of Kwara State University, KWASU, Alhaji Ayuba Abdullahi. Although we learnt that he made it to the hospital, he did not survive it. Again, another serving Youth Corps member in Adamawa State simply identified as Samuel also reportedly gave up the ghost, while another sales representative in Ogun State, Mikail Osundiji, also lost his life while watching the tension-soaked match. The fifth person who reportedly died watching the match was Anambra-born billionaire Chief Osondu Nwoye, who lived in Ivory Coast. May the souls of all the departed find rest. What this means is that if you know that your heart won’t be able to cope with high-tension football matches or that you are hypertensive, please do not watch them live. Its best to watch the replay, after knowing the outcome so that the anxiety of who’s winning will not take its toll.

With the tournament over, now is the time for us to use the success of the team in AFCON to shed light on our local football league and see what could be done to redeem a battered international image in sports.

In the developed world, football has grown into an industry, providing jobs for millions of people and helping in the growth and development of their societies. The English Premier League, as of January 2023, is estimated to be worth around $17.9 billion. The valuation includes revenue from broadcast rights, sponsorship deals, and the overall financial performance of the competition. It is an industry that provides job opportunities to millions of people.

Again, most of the football clubs in England are richer than many states in Nigeria put together. The richest club in England, Manchester City, is valued at a massive €1.05 billion. Coming closely behind is Chelsea Football Club at €1.02 billion. In fact, Chelsea made €568.3 million in revenue last year, the eighth-highest in the world and the fourth amongst English clubs. The third club is Arsenal Football Club, valued at €890 million. The Gunners made €433.5 million in revenue last year, according to the Deloitte Football Money League.

In Europe and other western parts of the world, they have been able to incentivise the sector to attract the corporate world to invest and even play major roles that have created jobs for citizens and foreigners alike. In Europe, for instance, sports alone accounted for an overall gross value-added figure of 294.36 billion Euros (2.98%) in the economy as far back as 2012.  That figure would have doubled by now. Lately, global investment in sports has recorded huge growth, but sadly, Africa is still at the bottom of the ladder. A PWC report estimated that in 2015, global sports sponsorship reached $45billion while Africa contributed less than $2billion, with South African companies dominating.

Coming back to Africa, football could be turned into a money-spinning business if it would be properly managed and run by those who know how it should be done. The winning country at AFCON 2023 will take home $7 million. The runners-up will pocket $4 million. The two losing semi-finalists (two teams) will each receive $2.5 million. Further down the ranks, the losing quarter-finalists (four teams) will each receive $1.3 million. Do the maths and convert $7 million to naira.

Coming back home, what is the worth of our football clubs in Nigeria? What is the salary of the highest paid football player in our local league? What do clubs go home with at the end of a league year for winning the Nigeria’s professional league? These are germane questions that we must provide answers for if we are desirous of playing in the big league. As of January this year, the highest valued club in our league is Enyimba Football club and Kwara United valued at €300,000 each. Coming behind is Rivers United Football club at €175,000. Remo Stars is unarguably the richest club in the country presently, but it’s value is still peanuts compared to their counterparts in England.

Again, the prize money for winning the Nigeria’s Professional League is a paltry N150million. Also, each of the 20 participating clubs get N10million each as start-off grants from the pool of N200 million. Prize money for the Premier League, also known as Merit payments, range from £2.2 million for the team in the worst place to £44 million which the champion gets after winning the league.

Also, the highest paid football player in our league is Rivers United’s goalkeeper Joel Theophilus Afelokhai, who goes home monthly with N1.2 million. Afelokhai joined Rivers United in 2020 and has previously played for Enyimba FC and Kano Pillars. Compare his take home to that of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne who earned £400,000 weekly for just kicking the same round leather object. His colleague in the same club, Erling Haaland earns £375,000, while our African export – Mo Salah of Liverpool pockets £350,000. It is quite clear from the above figures why most of our players prefer playing outside the shores of the country.

With AFCON now over, it is time to use our victory to see how we can rebrand our league and make it competitive so that it would aid the growth of our economy. Football is a sure way to tackle youth unemployment if we have thinkers in government and those that have the will to turn things around. We need to pump money into Sports generally, provide the necessary infrastructure and put in place competent hands to manage our sports sector. Once those things are done, we would be able to attract investors into sports and the injection of funds would attract television stations as well as sponsorship.

There is nothing preventing each of the 774 local government councils in Nigeria from having one standard Stadium where local tournaments can take place. The old Principal Cup among secondary school students should be revived while the Under-13 and Under-16 football tournaments should be an avenue to discover young talents.

Those who are presently in Sports Administration are there for what they would get from the system and should be kicked out. Many of them know next to nothing about sports development. It is quite sad that ex Nigeria’s international, Segun Odegbami contested on several occasions to head the NFF but he was never good enough for the buccaneers that run the system. It is on record that the leagues, from amateur to NPFL, have not published their statements of account in the last eight years. So, if NFF does not publish its audited accounts, how can they compel clubs to do the same? It is only when you have an audited account that potential investors would be willing to pump money into the system.

Sports alone could take out more than 10 million youths off the streets if we are serious about tackling youth unemployment. But we must start the process at the local government level. We should get competent hands to manage the process and once the right structures are in place, corporate organisations would be willing to partner with the government and will eventually own the process. Most of our top football players do not like staying back home to play in the local league and understandably so.

The money is not just there. But that was not the case in the 70s and 80s. Then, our league attracted players from Ghana and other African countries and we won several laurels in Africa. But now, our local team have all become a shadow of what they used to be as they now find it hard to compete and win at major tournaments in Africa. I can’t recall when last we won any major trophy in Africa.

When we develop our local league, it would eventually rub off on the economy and the tag ‘Generator Republic’ given to us by South Africans on social media due to constant power outages in Nigeria should be of great concern to our leaders.

It is a shame that the giant of Africa now relies mostly on generators to power homes. But the performance of the Super Eagles should serve as a  springboard to tackle some of our challenges as a nation, particularly, in fixing our moribund electricity and other sectors.

See you next week.

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