The Super Eagles, is not partaking in the biennial football fiesta, AFCON 2015, as the 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations gets underway in Equatorial Guinea. The AFCON is the flagship and the most glamorous football championship in the Continent of Africa and so it is the desire of many football loving nations in Africa to always be a part of this show.
This will be the third time since 1980 that the Green Eagles (as the national team was then known) has failed to qualify for the competition. Nigeria did not qualify for the 1986 and 2012 edition but withdrew from the1996 edition hosted and won by South Africa for political reasons. The withdrawal subsequently earned Nigeria a ban from the 1998 edition by CAF.
Their disqualification came from the fact that, the format of this championship in accordance with rules of the football governing body in Africa, CAF, will only allow sixteen national teams to participate in the finals and but our Super Eagles woefully failed to qualify to be one of these sixteen teams, even as the defending champions.
Our failure to qualify for the 2015 AFCON is a big disappointment considering Nigeria’s pedigree in African football. That Nigeria, with our array of talented players across the world fell short of defending the AFCON trophy it won in 2013, is disheartening. But then, it never really came as a big surprise to many football enthusiasts and pundits. Apart from the perennial maladministration that have bedevilled our football over the years, the qualifiers for the 2015 AFCON was marred by issues bothering on contracts with the coaching crew and the election brouhaha into the Executive Committee of the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF.
It is just very painful watching other countries slug it out in Equatorial Guinea without our dear Super Eagles. Obviously, our absence from the tournament has definitely waned Nigerians interest in the championship. At this very point in our political journey in Nigeria, with the looming 2015 general elections and the unnecessary tension it has created, a participating Super Eagles in the tournament would definitely have provided a much needed alkali that can diffuse the anxiety in the air in and around the country. As it is often said, sport is the only factor that unifies Nigerians irrespective of religious, ethnic and political leanings.
FIFA rightly titled football the language of the world, and it has been the single symbol of unity in Nigeria. When the Super Eagles play, it does not matter where you come from, whether north, east or west, we all garner behind the team in cheering it to victory. It is amazing how we put our religious and other such sentiments aside as if they never existed while watching the national teams! Anyone that has ever watched any of our national teams play, in a viewing centre, can lay credence to how Muslims hug Christians freely and vice versa whenever Nigerian teams score. Ibo, Hausa, Efik, Tiv, Yoruba, etc all celebrate together without hindrances.
It is, therefore, astounding why as Nigerians we often fail to apply this spirit of oneness to all other spheres of our national life. This is why one considers Nigeria and Nigerians as losers for the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for the 2015 AFCON. Nigerian football fans are definitely not the only ones being hurt by the absence of Super Eagles at 2015 AFCON. Sport is supposed to be a means of attaining physical fitness while providing entertainment and pleasure but in our world today, sport is anything but that. Sports have become a very big and serious business all around the world. Unbelievably huge investments are now made into sports business that it has become a lucrative venture with enormous turnover. It has become an international entertainment industry with global revenues of more than $38 billion in television rights and ticketing alone. Millions of people around the world earn their living from sports related interests.
It can be said that, the sports industry’s core sources of revenue can be divided into three main categories: broadcast rights, sponsorships (including licensing and merchandising), and ticketing and hospitality, such as entertainment and catering in sports venues. Around the world and in Nigeria, football remains the most popular sport and from all indications it is clear that a lot of people in football business are already counting their losses with our country’s absence at AFCON. At the lower end of the loss ladder will be the viewing centres. There would definitely be low patronage due to Nigeria’s absence at the ongoing AFCON. This low patronage means reduction in catering services at the centres. Nigerians have a legendary habit of consuming vast foods and drinks (especially pepper soup and beer) while watching the game of football. The ripple effect of this is that producers of these foods and drinks and those who offer ancillary services to them would have been smiling to the banks had Nigeria been participating in the one month-long event.
On the upper end of the loss ladder, the Advertisers, their agents and broadcasting stations that would struggle hard to attract sponsors and advertisements that can shore up their revenue, are the worst-hit. CAF itself would find it difficult to sell or retail the broadcasting rights of the event in Nigeria, its prospective largest market. This is a huge loss to CAF! Economists have reiterated that the loss to Nigeria’s economy with its failure to qualify for the 2015 AFCON could potentially be in excess of 50 billion Naira. Among the losers are Nigerian footballers who could have used the opportunity to re-launch their failing careers. It is a known fact that the AFCON is always besieged by scouts from all over the world and Europe in particular, where it is the dream of many footballers to ply their trade for obvious reasons. The players are fully aware that a commanding performance can lead to a big money transfer to better clubs. Nigerian football is also a loser as the AFCON also offers a platform on which new football stars can be discovered for the rebirth of the national team. Players like Oboabona and Omeruo, who are now regulars for the Super Eagles, were revelations from the 2013 AFCON that Nigeria won.
Suffice it to say, that all is not lost, because as a country and a people we have the resilience to turn our despair into hope. We have the potential to turn adversity into an advantage and the only way to attain this is not to look back but rather to pro-actively plan into the future for the Super Eagles to soar again. The right time to send the Eagles into the sky again is now. The time for the rebirth of the Super Eagles is now. All stakeholders in the Super Eagles’ project must resolve to do the right things for the future to be brighter. Therefore, the preparation for the 2017 AFCON must begin in earnest now.