Thursday, May 13, 2021

The World Cup begins


tiamin rice

Nigeria’s forward Victor Moses (L) attends a training session with teammates at Essentuki Arena in southern Russia on June 14, 2018 ahead of Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. / AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

By the time you are reading this I shall be in Russia. For the next one month every other activity on the planet shall be put on temporary hold.Meanwhile, last Thursday night, on the very first day of the world’s greatest sporting event, as Russia opened the 2018 World Cup with a spectacular display of culture and technology at the opening ceremony of this football festival with a resounding 5-0 trouncing of a hapless Saudi Arabia, my thoughts were invaded by two earlier events not directly related to the football match.

Two days earlier, as I sat in Lagos and watched the ceremony of determining the host of the 2026 World Cup by all the stakeholders in football in the city of Moscow, I was deep in thought into what could have been a first for Nigeria some 15 years earlier, now being credited to America.I am sitting quietly and recalling how 15 years ago, I had mooted a simple idea, followed it up with a visit to the FIFA President in Zurich, consulted the governments of four neighbouring West African countries, and secured the buy-in of the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria, to study the feasibility of a multi-nation, Nigeria-led, West African bid for the first World Cup to come to Africa in 2010.

I am recalling how the whole idea was treated with suspicion and skepticism by a large swath of the Nigerian media and people, because of their lack of appreciation of the arguments for it, particularly in the wake of the financial brigandage that was the hosting of the All-African Games, COJA 2003, held earlier that year in Abuja.

It was a bad time to market what was undoubtedly a new, audacious and untested proposition. Very few persons were willing to even give it a chance, or an ear. Despite all the ‘noises’ that I made about the immeasurable benefits that would accrue to the entire sub-region by merely venturing to bid, as soon as the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, finally turned his back on the project that he had initially endorsed with some enthusiasm, I conceded defeat, humbly tucked my tail between my legs in surrender, and submitted to majority sentiment.So, as I sat and watched the voting process in Moscow a few days ago, I had visions of 2003 in my head.

I am wondering now.
Did the USA take a cue from our 2003 idea? Even that cannot be farfetched.After all, the study group set up by the government of Nigeria at the time to conduct the feasibility of the project had contacted Mr. Allan Rothenburg, the Chairman of the very successful USA ’94 World Cup, to be a part of the consultants to work on it.He had listened to the idea of a West African World Cup with fascination, just as the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, before him, and had immediately accepted to consult for Nigeria on the bid.

Unfortunately, the project was prematurely aborted as a result of the overwhelming negative press it generated, as well as the political pressure mounted by South Africa’s President, Thabo Mbeki, to convince his Nigerian counterpart, Olusegun Obasanjo, to surrender Nigeria’s 2010 World Cup bid interest to South Africa in exchange for his country’s support for Nigeria’s bid for the less prestigious Commonwealth games.

15 years later the world had woken up to the idea I envisioned in 2003 about the future of the World Cup. The concept of a multi-nation World Cup has now become a reality, to the extent that even the most powerful and richest country in the world has adopted a joint-hosting arrangement with its neighbours, Mexico and Canada, to host what would become the most lucrative sports event in history in 2026.

Once again I humbly counsel. Morocco’s failure to win the bid last Tuesday can be converted to Nigeria’s gain down the road. By 2030 it will be time for the World Cup to return to Africa again after 20-years. A truly African World Cup, this time with the full flavouring of African traditions and cultures, requires a multi-national collaboration rather than a one-nation host.

It makes absolute sense for Nigeria to revisit the visionary idea of 2003 again and use it to drive clearly identified, measurable and feasible goals for the people in the West African sub-region! A 4/5 nation joint hosting arrangement is less financially burdensome, and obviously more beneficial to more countries, and serve as a catalyst for regional integration and development.

Nigerians must wake up from their lack of self-belief and capacity to accomplish great things. Stakeholders must seize the opportunity offered by this new concept and immediately set up a study group, secure the blessing and understanding of the federal government, and go to work quickly to establish the feasibility of a Nigeria-led, 4/5 nations joint West African hosting of the 2030 World Cup.

I am looking into the future. It will be an event like no other, a mammoth football and cultural festival showcasing not only the potentials of the region but also fast tracking and facilitating the fastest development of West Africa across all facets of life.The Footballer in Politics!
The second issue is much more personal.

A lot can be achieved in African football in the presence of the political will to drive great ideas. Nigeria has failed to benefit from the huge opportunities in the global football industry because successive governments have not paid proper attention to understand the dynamics of football and its power to impact society. It is a no-brainer that this is so simply because sport as a whole has never had the right kind of leadership to drive it in government. That’s why there has never also being the political will to drive big decisions.For things to change, therefore, sport must find its way into politics and gain access to political power.

That’s why I am throwing my hat into the political ring to gain the missing link, the political will, to effect massive change that I know will come through the deployment of the power of football to achieve seemingly impossible dreams. I chose to leave my comfort zone and venture into the murky waters of Nigerian politics, hoping to combine a clear vision of a great future, the energy, innovativeness and passion of the youths, the abundant human capacity available, with the determination, winning attitude, team spirit, singlemindedness, hard work and organizational discipline (all basic ingredients in my sports world) to turn my State, Ogun State, into the best and safest place to live, work and invest in the whole of Africa.

I have no fears or qualms about how this can be achieved in Ogun State. It will happen rapidly and the State will become a destination of choice for all Black people around the world. I have the formula in my pocket.

From Ogun State, by setting an example, we shall start to change the national political narratives and to influence a major political paradigm shift in the country.That’s why I am seeking the understanding of the football and sports faithful in the State, to rise, join and support me in this audacious new football match I have with Nigerian politics.So, as we all settle down to four weeks of the best of world football, I shall be preparing to play the most exciting and most challenging match I have played in my life. When I win the elections in 2019, Ogun State, and by extension, the whole of the South West, and by further extension, the whole of Nigeria, will never be the same again. A happy World Cup month to you all! Up Eagles!

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