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How Russia 2018 can heal the world

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FIFA World Cup Russia 2018.<br />YOUTUBE

As I walked into this party in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, I encountered a varying mix of reactions.

There were those saluting from afar, as well as random strangers walking up to me to confirm my ‘Nigerianness,’ before striking up conversations about our shared heritage and the Super Eagles’ chances in the upcoming world cup.

In those precious moments – in my new Super Eagles kit – partisanship, ideology, ethnicity, religion and our other differences didn’t matter.

We affirmed and basked in our shared bond.

In that moment, I was reminded that while the world cup has traditionally been used as a diplomatic tool to heal wounds between nations, it is also a unique opportunity for citizens within participating countries to set aside their differences, come together and reaffirm their patriotism in a way that only occurs after a catastrophic event.

The quadrennial FIFA world cup presents the host and participating nations alike a rare opportunity to not only showcase their rich history and culture on the global stage but also to heal wounds, mend fences, and rise above differences among cultures and nations.

The stage is particularly important for countries with a troubling public image to reset relations.

2010 host, South Africa, used it as a tool to show the world that apartheid was behind it and that Africa was ready for the big stage.

2014 hosts, Brazil, – despite being plagued by corruption scandals that eventually led to the impeachment of its president – was eager to show the world that rumours of its demise were grossly overstated. And they did.

This world cup is no different. Host nation Russia which has come under a barrage of attacks, from accusations that they fraudulently won the bid to host the tournament, to growing hostilities with the West for its annexation of Crimea and meddling in US and European elections, will no doubt use the spotlight to try to counter that message.

Iran, which is also participating, will conceivably go back to their carpet diplomacy – in which they present their opponents and key figures with custom made silk carpets, as they try to appeal to the more pragmatic European nations to stay in the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) after the United States pulled out.

Over the last few years, the deep divisions that have plagued Nigeria since amalgamation seem to have returned with a vengeance. From sectarian violence to groups agitating to secede from the country, terrorist attacks and kidnappings, herdsmen killings of innocent citizens (including clergymen), and most recently, national assembly seriously considering impeaching the president; It is not a stretch to say that this is the most divided Nigeria has been since the civil war.

Yet, against this backdrop the Super Eagles team, which was the first African country to qualify for the world cup, seems poised to make an impressive run in the world cup.

In the midst of the partisan rancor, there is a tremendous sense of pride and excitement for the world cup that cuts across ethnic, religious and partisan lines.

There is certainly enthusiasm around every World Cup and the festivities that accompany it, but what is happening in this world cup feels different.

There is a sense of patriotism, of national pride that is rare and that we haven’t seen in a while.

I believe the coincidence of the most divisive time with the most patriotic event presents us a chance that many other nations, who are experiencing similar internal divisions, don’t have – An opportunity to harness the power of unity that the World cup provides, to bridge the divides and elevate our discourse to be more civil and empathetic.

Immediately after every terrorist attack, mass shooting or natural disaster, Americans come together, rally around each other and resolve to put aside their differences and work for their greater good.

The same way Nigerians and the world rallied around the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. It’s commonplace to unite after tragedy, but rarely do we have an opportunity to unite around something joyous.

As the world cup gets underway this week, let us remember that while we come from different tribes, and backgrounds, we are Nigerians first and that while we don’t always have to agree on things, we all have the best interest of the country at heart.


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