I believe very much that the future holds great promise for Nigeria and that football shall play a big role in creating that future.
Permit me, therefore, to guide readers through another one of my audacious thoughts.
So, I am thinking.
Where would Nigeria be today had the country hosted the FIFA World Cup in place of South Africa in 2010? No country hosts the FIFA World Cup and remains the same.
A look at what South Africa benefited and continues to benefit from that project is there for all to see. Like Brazil in 2014, the 2010 World Cup was the catalyst for South Africa’s monumental advancement in urban renewal, education, international image branding and tourism.
Yet, Nigeria was briefly on the cards to bid for the 2010 World Cup in 2003.
The FIFA World Cup is the biggest, most followed and most lucrative single sports event in the world. Late Nelson Mandela, on the eve of the 2010 World Cup, ascribed to football the power to change the world. He was right.
The World Cup became such a prized property that countries went to extraordinary lengths to seek to host it. FIFA officials were lured into very shoddy, sordid and clandestine practices that threatened to destroy the image of the most powerful organisation in the world with the unearthed scandals around the bidding process.
It is not surprising, therefore, to understand how in the history of the global championship only a handful of countries out of the over 200 that presently make up the FIFA organization have hosted it.
Bidding and hosting the World Cup was made such a big deal that most countries never even dreamt the possibility that they could one day host it. So, they did nothing. Only very few understood the ‘dirty’ games behind the bids.
But the world of football is changing slowly but steadily.
A cursory look at the table of past hosts reveals that in the past two decades FIFA have extended the hosting opportunities to other continents apart from South America and Europe that had monopolized the event since its inception. That’s how the USA, Korea/Japan and South Africa hosted the event in 1994, 2002 and 2010 respectively. That has even led now to the evolution of an unwritten continental rotational arrangement.
It was Africa’s turn in 2010. South Africa hosted it and defied all odds to put up a truly exceptional, first class, entertaining and colourful event now touted as the best ever.
That an African country hosted it so well without breaking its bank vaults and without impoverishing the country opened a new vista for the rest of the world.
The benefits (economic, political, infrastructural, social and diplomatic) to South Africa have been humongous, and remain real legacies that will sustain for years to come.
That’s why in 2018 and 2022, Russia and Qatar respectively, will join the limited club of World Cup hosts.
With the unwritten rotational principle between the 6 continents in operation, we can take it as a given that it will be Africa’s turn again to host the global football fiesta in 2030 – 14 years away.
So, permit me once again to dare to dream that Nigeria will lead a few countries in its neighbourhood to host the world’s first regional World Cup in 2030!
The idea of a multi-nation World Cup is not farfetched at all. It is indeed the future. It is the way to go after the recent FIFA scandals that exposed deep-rooted corruption in the manner of previous bids.
The idea of a regional World Cup was a major part of the manifesto of the man from Bahrain, Sheikh Salman, who also contested for the seat of FIFA president some two months ago.
UEFA have also adopted the multi-nation concept for future hosting of its European Championship.
I have it on good authority that FIFA will gladly embrace the change in hosting philosophy. The benefits to the game, fans, and to host countries are obvious and numerous.
The good news is that Nigeria is well ahead of the rest of the world in championing the cause of a regional World Cup.
That was Nigeria’s proposition in 2003 to FIFA when the idea of a 5-nation West African World Cup bid was mooted by me, endorsed excitedly by the then FIFA president (Sepp Blatter), embraced by Nigeria’s neighbours (Ghana, Cameroon, Togo and Benin Republic), successfully ‘sold’ to the Vice President and President of Nigeria, and approved by the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria.
Yes, it will shock everyone to know that all of these things happened in 2003 before Nigeria’s bid was shot down painfully but understandably by well-meaning Nigerians and a segment of the media in the aftermath of the All African Games, COJA 2003, hosted by Nigeria.
COJA turned out to be a nightmarish misadventure. It was riddled with unbelievable stories of corruption that went all the way up to the highest echelons of government and society. The government had to abandon the report of the forensic audit it initiated to save itself.
Any proposal to host anything after that was bound to elicit widespread condemnation. That’s how the 2010 World Cup bid was extinguished.
But Nigeria had made a point the country can now recall, that with the world becoming a different place in 2016, the country was ahead of itself and had seen the future with its innovative regional bid when everyone did not think it made sense, or would even be acceptable.
Today, bidding to host the World Cup would no longer go to the highest bidder or to only the rich countries. The world is ready for a new thinking and new ways of using football and its priciest property, the World Cup, to impact it beyond football.
Only the shortsighted think that the World Cup is a football event. It is not!
Article written by Segun Odegbami.