Aleksander Ceferin, Issa Hayatou, Solomon Dalung

Odegbami: Random Thoughts On Sports

Let me admit straightaway that my mind is a complete blank this week. I am afflicted by the writer’s disease. 

I have been trying to think up an ‘innocent’ subject matter, one that will not be negative, not offensive, that we have not exhaustively discussed here before, that would not make me sound like a broken record, that would help somehow to remove some gloom from Nigerian sports, I can’t seem to find any.

I am tired.It feels like I am repeating myself after decades of writing weekly on a subject matter that no one is taking seriously. I am contemplating the option of joining my good friends, Adokie Amiesimaka and, more recently, Osasu Obayuwana, in the siddon look business. It is frustrating to look around and see what is happening to Nigerian sports and no one in authority seems to understand, or even care. 

What more is there to comment on, that has not been said a thousand times before and nothing has changed? 

So, permit me to simply just roam around the world of sports and fill this space with my random thoughts. 

There are several recent global issues of some interest.  

UEFA have just elected a young East European from Slovenia, Aleksander Ceferin, as its president. Africa can take a cue from this and halt its own one-man-in-perpetuity presidency.  The same man has been President of CAF since even before I was ‘born’. Issa Hayatou has been president of CAF for almost 30 years, and still counting. There is no sign, no indication whatsoever, that any administrator from any one of the 53 other federations on the continent is brave enough to challenge him and break this monotonous hegemony. 

Peterside Idah, former Nigerian international goalkeeper, and current football analyst on Supersports’ premium television program, Soccer Africa, asked his co-analysts on the show about a week or so ago, an interesting question that has kept me thinking.  

Whilst discussing the recent failure of some giants of African football to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and also struggling to remain in the chase for a place in the next World Cup, he wondered if it was the football standard in the countries affected that is in decline, or whether it is a case of the minnows, once cannon fodder for the bigger nations, are improving so much and so fast they have caught up with the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa and even Cote D’Ivoire, all of whom appear to be in some kind of decline. Countries like Rwanda, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Burundi, Congo DR now populate the top echelon of African football. 

Is this paradigm shift real, temporary, or what? Obviously the question calls for closer study and examination.

Then, Nigerian sports and its sports minister are under fire. Both have been, since the Rio Olympic Games described as Nigeria’s worst ever performance even with a consolatory Bronze medal as a soothing balm. 

The sports minister obviously is in very unfamiliar territory in sports. His good intentions, attested to by many of my friends that have met him (I have not) have not translated into words, actions and decisions to allay the fears of skeptics, stakeholders and critics.

Nigerian athletes are doing very well in the Rio Paralympic games. The medals from the games are personal to those that win them. They signify triumph of the personal human spirit over physical human disability, and not a measure of a country’s sports development.  So, when the athletes return with their chest of medals they must be individually celebrated, and none of it should rub off on the sports ministry!

I do not understand yet what the allegation of the hacking of the WADA website by Russia signifies. Is something wrong with permitting some identified sports icons the use of some banned substances for medicinal purposes? I am lost for understanding what this means for sports. It is not as if some doping was officially allowed and is now being exposed, is it? 

The various national European leagues and the European Club championship have resumed, pitching the best teams in Europe against each other in a race that increasingly looks like a ‘war’ of the managers. 

Never in the history of football has there been as much focus on managers as there have been this season. The EPL is witnessing the assembly of some of the world’s most reputable managers in one league and in charge of mega clubs. 

Watching matches these days is almost akin to watching the flamboyant managers at play. Television cameras spend almost as much time cutting to the managers as they do to the players on the field of play. 

Even the new advertisement on television, on the richest football property in the world, the European Club championship, stars one of the most flamboyant of the managers, the ‘chosen’ genius, Jose Mourinho, and not by any one of the best assembly of players on the planet in the same competition – Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Suarez, etc. This is truly the era of the managers. It is simply incredible.

The excitement in the EPL has escalated this season not just because many more of the world’s top players continue to seek greener pastures in it, but because many more of Europe’s most successful managers have joined them on the island and have taken the EPL into a new realm as the biggest and richest league in the world! 

Check out the impressive list – Jose Mourinho for Manchester United, Pep Guardiola for Manchester City, Arsene Wenger for Arsenal, Jurgen Klopp for Liverpool, and Anthonio Conte for Chelsea. There is now as much drama on the sidelines as there is on the field of play. 

Finally, I am thinking about football. What is it about the game that grips the entire planet in its vice? 

Is football really just a game? Many have been quoted to say it is more than a game. That it is even more than life and death. 

I am just wondering where it draws its enormous powers from, powers that transcend politics, religion, race, colour, gender, and virtually everything else that divides the world and keeps it in perpetual conflict mode? 

I don’t understand it, yet I believe that such an awesome power when properly harnessed, channeled and utilized cleverly could create a window of opportunity to glean the possibility of a peaceful, prosperous world. 

China, India and some other South East Asian economic giants are now heavily investing in the lucrative business of football. What is this game really that never tires the billions of its viewers and keeps attracting followers and big business on a global level almost on a daily basis? 

I am just thinking what would happen, how things would change if only we apply the power of football around the world in solving some of the world’s most intractable social, political and even economic problems – of religion, racial discrimination, social inequality, religion, job creation, poverty, hunger, disease, education, and so on and so forth.

There is something surreal about this game that needs interrogation and new thinking!   

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One Comments

  1. Please O Chief, you will not have this brain freeze or what did you call it? This thing that wants to make you take the “siddon look” posture. We enjoy reading and commenting on your weekly blog. Why don’t you give us something in the rise and rise of Liverpool FC and the fall and fall of Jose Mourinho? I will like to read what you think football or sport can do to help solve religious problems. I feel sport can not solve religious problems but it will be a good article to comment on your opinion.

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