By Temitope Akintola
The nature of my job affords me the opportunity to travel a lot, interface with people from different walks of life and get very social.
In my recent travels on the continent, from Far East Ethiopia to the west in Senegal, one theme seems to be ever present in every hang out spot, bar, club, resorts or even in formal meetings that I attend: FOOTBALL.
Football presents itself as a very potent weapon across the continent, it’s your go-to topic to start a conversation in any setting these days, even the wealthiest man on the continent. Aliko Dangote would burst into laughter and excitement once Arsenal Football club is mentioned and that could easily turn to a heated argument if long time friend Femi Otedola tries to spite him at Arsenal’s lack of success in winning the premiership for over a decade.
I vividly remember a TV presenter in Nigeria starting with facts how Boko Haram had not attacked a village or dropped a bomb during the period of the last World Cup held in Russia. 15 July 2018 marked one of Boko Haram’s biggest attacks on the Nigerian Military since 2015 – that date coincided with the last day of the World Cup.
We forget our differences, our religion, and our struggles, once the game comes up and we start to hug when our team scores not minding the religion, ethnic group or political party the person belongs to; only one cluster matters now; what football team you support.
I carefully add that this trait is not limited to football, but as an African from the West, Football is sports to us. The “Ping-Pong diplomacy” was coined when China ended a 25 years of no-communication with the US by inviting American players to an exhibition match, Nelson Mandela used Rugby to unite RSA in 1995.
However, Joe Humphrey said that “sport is essentially anti-family and encourages unethical, discriminatory behaviour”. What happens when we do not support the same team? Violence? Racism? Targeted attacks?
I asked my friends’ kids in Ethiopia, Senegal and Nigeria to write a composition on what they would like to be in the future and I got about the same response. They all want to be footballers. They want to be the next Amiya Taga, Sadio Mane and Jay Jay Okocha. They wrote with so much passion for the game, a caustic, consuming passion that takes every other thing as secondary, leaving football as the primary focus.
Do we blame the kids? Footballers are more celebrated these days than Nobel Laureate winners in our society. It’s gradually becoming the ultimate achievement to play in Europe. Our schools spend more on sport activities like NUGA games, Inter House sports than they spend to equip the laboratories and on JETS club.
Is football becoming a new virus to our future generation? Is our love for football doing more harm to our economy and our future than good? Is there a balance to be found? Is it time for schools to revisit the curriculum? Every home now boasts of a potential sports gambler in Nairabet and Betnaija now?
I leave us with this statement from Tupac “Black Americans do not need any more basketball players or football players but rather Physicists, Mathematicians and Businessmen because these are the class of people that would re-write the black history and add the needed pedigree to the black nation”.
Thank you for reading