What is it about sports, football in particular, in Nigeria? Why does it engage our citizens so much? The passion from citizens is so much that it competes with religion, the well-known “opium of the people”, according to Karl Marx. This new-found opium creeps into many things we do. It is worrisome enough that many Nigerians get crazy about football, but it is even more nauseating that the passion is hinged on teams that have little or no nexus with these Nigerians.
By Obo Effanga
Why, for instance, would the artisan or jobless youth, who goes hungry all day, be struggling to pay for and watch the telecast of a UEFA Champions League match in the evening at a local viewing centre? What is more, he might have spent most of the productive hours of the day debating with his fellow poor or jobless friends about how ‘his’ team plays better football than his friend’s team? Sometimes the argument is so intense that it leads to violence before, during or after the game. There are reported cases of brawls occasioning deaths as a result of (foreign) football fans’ rivalry. I call it ‘Foreign Football Madness (FFM) syndrome’.
Make no mistakes; most of these supporters of foreign football teams cannot locate, on the map, the cities where those teams are based. That is even assuming they know that some of the names are not of cities.
The FFM gets sillier, even among the enlightened and comfortable elite class. Here are a few manifestations. In Abuja, federal capital, there are major hotels with names like Chelsea, Bolton and Valencia. A reverend father friend in Ondo State once told me how, during a church harvest, some of his church members came for thanksgiving in groups of foreign football fans. So there were Manchester United fans club, Chelsea fans club and Arsenal fans club etc, decked in the colours of those clubs, of course, and competing to out-dance and out-donate the others.
Some of these FFM sufferers are so deep in it that they cannot draw the line between their individual idiosyncrasies and their official duties. A few weeks ago, someone who posts official materials on the facebook page of a major Nigerian bank got carried away and on a Monday morning used the page to express sentiments about the outcome of an English premiership match involving two rival teams. The reactions from followers of the page were predictable. Not a few persons threatened to close their accounts with the bank if the said bank was openly celebrating the success of one team over theirs.
Or what do we make of the audacity of the sponsors of the UEFA Champions League recently sending the trophy to Nigeria as part of the ‘world tour’ to popularise the competition. It looked more like colonialism, to me, especially when the Lagos State governor, himself a proud fan of an English team, was on hand to receive the trophy and the promoters, thus turning it to a state event!
The media also deserves some knocks. Last Monday, I found it very unacceptable and embarrassing to see a photo of a football game played the previous day in the English Premiership splashed on the front page of a major Nigerian general interest newspaper. Pray, what were the editors thinking? Were they suggesting that none of all the newsworthy happenings in Nigeria was good enough to have its photograph on the cover of that newspaper?
As I write this, a major issue of discussion by many Nigerians is the result of the UEFA Champions League semi-final game involving Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. I posted a status on the social media on this madness and this is one of the responses I got: “My young son nearly strangled his younger sister for merely laughing when a Chelsea player missed a shot. We had to call a family meeting and I threatened not to pay for the satellite television subscription again.”
While at breakfast in the hotel, one of the guests complained about his team’s loss the previous night. He admitted though that he had feared they would be defeated but was only trying to be ‘patriotic’ all the same in wishing his team the best. Did he just say ‘patriotism’? And I thought patriotism was about devotion to one’s country. I quickly challenged him to show a whiff of such ‘patriotism’ to his/our country, Nigeria!
Now, this is exactly what I wish we could do. Let our passionate football fans bring in that passion to how they see Nigeria and what they do to it? We argue over who manages our (foreign) football teams and who plays for them. We invest money and time talking about it, and even when those teams perform poorly, we still believe in them and support them, not just for now but on the hope that ‘e go better’. If Arsenal, as unsuccessful as it has been for close to 10 years, still has supporters among Nigerians, why can’t those Nigerians love their country as passionately? Let us bring this passion to our work as government officials and as citizens engaging the officials. And if we have the opportunity to make the change, let us do so.