Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup

Nigeria players and officials acknowledge the public as they celebrate after the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Zambia in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on October 7, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP


The jubilation over Nigeria’s qualification for the global football fiesta, the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018, is justified, considering the nation’s performance in the fifth appearance at the 2014 edition. This time, the Super Eagles topped their group after just the third game when the team defeated Zambia in Uyo Akwa Ibom State. The final qualifying match, against Egypt on November 11, 2017, would be mere formality, rankings and for confidence boosting. Judging by past experiences, however, the preparation must not be shoddy and it must involve the private sector as is the case in many other countries.

Many nations have recognised that football, just as sports in general, is big business. Beyond what goes on on the field of play, there is a bee-hive of supportive activities providing employment and generating revenue for various tiers of government. In Nigeria, the role of sports in reducing crime is well known, as participation offers outlet for youthful energy that could have been negatively deployed. Thus, sporting life has relevance to the security of the people. This has informed the importance accorded this human activity by governments and the seriousness that should be applied to any effort at developing a national policy for sports.

Nigeria has many men and women who are knowledgeable in the administration and business of sports, based on their participation and experience at the global level, in various roles as athletes, coaches and entrepreneurs. They are eager to utilise their expertise for their beloved country. They are, however, continually frustrated by the status quo that often arises from government’s over bearing hands in sports. For the nation to realise its potential in sports, there must be an enabling environment for the participation of qualified individuals and for the private sector.

Football has placed Nigeria on the front banner all over the world and the country is highly rated in the sport. It is the focus of many talent hunters. The nation first qualified for the World Cup in 1994. Two years later, the Nigerian Team won the Gold Medal in the Atlanta Olympics. Many of the players in the squad were recruited to play in professional teams in Europe. The nation also qualified for the Finals in 1998, 2002, 2010. In 2014 (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) Nigeria reached the second round after placing second behind Argentina in the Group matches but lost to France in the frist round of the knock-out draw.

With the experience garnered by Nigerian players who compete among the best in the world in professional teams, Nigeria should aim high in Russia and improve on the second round achievement of 2014. For this expected greater showing, the Nigerian Football Federation must put its house in order. Although it is still under government influence, despite protests and sanctions from the world body, experience has revealed the need for private sector funding by individuals and business entities with a passion for the sport. It cannot be overstated that individuals and corporate bodies able and willing to support football need the enabling environment in order to benefit from the mileage from sponsorship.

In addition to its social and commercial importance, sport is a tool of global diplomacy and national unity. Whenever Nigeria is competing against another country in football, the entire citizenry is united in support of the national team. Somehow, a contest on a football pitch assumes the dimension of warfare. This was the wisdom behind the originators of the Ancient Delphic Games, a competition between nations in Arts and Music; for each nation to parade its culture as an exhibition of their edification.

Sports as a potent tool for local and international politics, contributed greatly to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa. In its years of isolation, the sport, loving people of that great country yearned to be part of the global sports competition. When the legendary Alhaji Raheem Adejumo was President of the Nigeria Olympics Committee, he spoke of the efforts of his South African counterpart Sam Ramsamy, to make him comply with the requirements of the International Olympic Committee. This was a major step towards the country’s re-admission into world sports and a precursor to all-party governance in 1994, after which its great teams in Rugby and Cricket began making their exploits.

As Nigeria focuses on serious preparations for the nation’s success in Russia 2018, the unifying power of this sporting achievement must not be lost on Nigeria as a nation. At a time when there is a clamour in the land over various issues, coming together by all Nigerians at moments of sporting competitions is evidence of their common humanity and intrinsic goodness. The government, must, therefore, ensure that the right people are given the specific tasks for the achievement of the nation’s goal of putting up a winning show at the 2018 World Cup Finals.

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