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FIFA’s plan to build stadiums in Africa

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FIFA President, Gianni Infantino. PHOTO: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI

A report that the world football governing body, FIFA planned to build at least one stadium meeting FIFA standards in every African country underscores a recent index on failure of governance in most parts of Africa. It is shameful and indeed embarrassing that most African countries cannot boast of standard stadiums that meet FIFA standards. Only South Africa and some North African countries including Egypt can’t enrol in this ‘‘Hall of Shame.’’

FIFA President, Gianni Infantino spoke about the plan during the 80th anniversary celebration of DR Congo side, TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi. Infantino said that FIFA would like African football to shine and so would work with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and other stakeholders to improve refereeing, infrastructure and competitions on the continent.

“We want to bring Africa to the highest heights and show the world the outstanding talents and amazingly gifted players your continent possesses,” he said.

“To do this, we want to implement a three pillar approach: refereeing, infrastructure and competitions, in close cooperation with CAF, all of its 54 member associations across Africa and other stakeholders.”

“I am positive that we will make African football reach the top level where it should be because the quality and potential are definitely here,” he concluded.

Infantino is touring along with his general secretary turned African delegate, Fatma Samoura, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad and African legend Samuel Eto’o among other people.

This is not a cheering report about Africa. Gross infrastructural deficit is a big dent on Africa. And this state of affairs has impacted negatively on social and economic development on the continent. It is high time African governments did something to close the infrastructure gap, lest we will continue to be the last. Since soccer has undoubtedly become a multi-billion business that attracts huge economic reward and fame, building and maintaining the requisite facilities should be given priority in the scheme of economic development.

That Nigeria is among the African countries where FIFA plans to build a stadium is disgraceful. It is sad that Nigeria has no good stadium. The general neglect of infrastructure, unfortunately, is not limited to roads and bridges but also to sports facilities. All the iconic stadiums including Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Africa’s premier stadium have been destroyed. Besides, there are more than 50 stadiums scattered all over Nigeria and yet none is good enough to host FIFA football competitions. The Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja with a capacity of 60, 491 is the biggest in Nigeria. This is followed by the National Stadium in Lagos, with a capacity of 45, 000. It is sad that the two biggest stadiums in Lagos and Abuja are in deplorable condition after gulping billions to build. It is a show of shame.

While the National Stadium in Surulere Lagos is now noted for beer drinking joints, the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja has been turned into a cattle-grazing ground. The multipurpose Abuja national sports stadium built in 2003 that served as home to the Nigerian national football team was abandoned soon after the 2009 FIFA Under 17 World Cup. The Federal Government approved the construction of the Abuja Stadium Complex and Games Village on July 18, 2000. The stadium was built to host the Eighth All Africa Games, which took place in October 2003. President Buhari announced the change of the name of the National Stadium Abuja to Moshood Abiola National Stadium on June 12, 2019 without directing a facelift for the facility.

The same ugly fate has befallen the National Stadium in Surulere Lagos. The multi-purpose stadium built in 1972 comprised an Olympic-size swimming arena and a multipurpose arena used for basketball, volleyball, table tennis, wrestling and boxing matches.

Before fate dealt a dirty blow on the stadium, it was used mostly for football matches until 2001. It hosted several football competitions including the 1980 African Cup of Nations final, the 2000 African Cup of Nations final and FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. It also served as the main stadium of the 1973 All-Africa Games before it was abandoned and closed in 2004.

The two stadiums in the old and new nation’s capitals have become a metaphor for infrastructural decay in Nigeria. It is incomprehensible how a country would spend billions to build a facility only to abandon it thereafter. The stadiums require huge investment to renovate.

As things stand, FIFA can’t be stopped from building its stadiums proposed for Africa. Since lack of maintenance is the bane of all the stadiums in Nigeria, FIFA should build and operate its stadium to guarantee maintenance and good management. But most African leaders who also allowed China to build a befitting office complex as African Union’s Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia should note that the gift from FIFA is reproachful. They should learn to plan development projects from their incomes. We can’t continue to depend on development partners and donor agencies for development of critical infrastructure that we can afford to build ordinarily.


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