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The growth of Copa Lagos and its challenges

The sport of beach soccer has come a long way in its development. Starting in the 1940s on the beaches of Brazil as pastime, the sport has since grown...

A player of Sand Sand Eagles of Nigeria in action at the 2015 Copa Lagos beach soccer tournament.

The sport of beach soccer has come a long way in its development. Starting in the 1940s on the beaches of Brazil as pastime, the sport has since grown to become main stream since the codification of the rules and the formation of a central governing body in the 1990s by the Beach Soccer World Wide (BSWW). It was not until the mid-2000s that the sport became official in Nigeria when the Sand Eagles were founded. The team participated in the first African Beach Soccer Championship in South Africa in 2006 where it finished second behind Cameroon. The next year, Nigeria defeated Senegal to win their first title on the continent creating genuine interest in the sport at home.

Even though the sport has struggled to find its feet in the country, that victory set the scene for the Copa Lagos five years later. In 2011, Kinetic Sports, a sports marketing company, founded the Copa Lagos, an annual beach soccer festival held on the beautiful beaches of Nigeria’s commercial capital every December. Every year, the Copa Lagos has brought together three other national beach soccer teams alongside the Sand Eagles to thrill fans over three days with the best football action backed by live music performances and other side attractions like the beautiful Spanish cheerleaders who have graced the event in the past.

Global growth
The growth of Copa Lagos cannot be divorced from the global growth of beach soccer. Since becoming an official FIFA event in 2005 when it was co-organised with BSWW, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has given greater attention to the sport across the world. Many football federations have set up national teams in order to compete at the global finals. While many of the teams do not see action often enough, the Copa Lagos has been a perfect practice point for the Nigerian team. Every December the Sand Eagles get to shake off their inactivity to compete against some of the best teams in the world.

This year, the Sand Eagles face Lebanon, Morocco and Spain in the national team category while the club category sees a first time appearance in Africa of the Arsenal Beach Soccer Club as they take on the challenge of the Gidi Sharks, a wholly new team put together from the best players across the Lagos metropolis by Swiss coach Angelo Shirinzi. The club challenge also has the Kebbi Beach Soccer Club and the Pepsi Football Academy in attendance.

The Stars of beach soccer
The sport of beach soccer has been propelled by some of the most famous stars from the mainstream football community. Former players like Eric Cantona, who coached France to win their maiden world title in 2005, and Brazil’s Romario, USA ’94 World Cup winner, also played a huge part in taking the sport beyond the fringes and into popular culture.
While Nigeria has not had any former stars play in the national sand team, a few players have emerged that have become popular over the years. Isiaka Olawale and Ogbonnaya Okemiri led the Sand Eagles to the quarter finals in 2007, the first African side to achieve that feat. In recent time, Abu Azeez, who was named among the 50 top beach soccer players in the world, has emerged a veritable star of the Sand Eagles. Others include Bartholomew Ibenegbu, Victor Tale and Godspower Igudia.

The culture of beach soccer is known for its youthfulness and colour. Much of the beach-going public know what to expect – great music, good food, barbecue, choice wine and fashion. The Copa Lagos has incorporated into its extravaganza a fashion show of the latest beach wear and other contemporary fashion.

While the action is played on the sand, the forward-looking fan will not be caught in dour clothing. The place of fashion on the beach is important and Copa Lagos has been known as a place where the trendsetters gather. A handful of Nigerian haute couture brands will exhibit their products at the event this year – Okun Beachwear, Tsemaye Binitie, Dapmod eyewear, the Weave Hat Company, Grey, among others. The fashion show will take place on Saturday.
A music concert has traditionally been part of the Copa Lagos. In the early days, Afrobeats star Wizkid stopped by. Expect any of the top Lagos DJs and a line-up of great vocalists to turn u this year.

Every successful event has its backers. The Copa Lagos has received a lot of support from its financial backers FCMB and 7UP over the last six years. Hero Lager has come on board in recent times as well as Coollink. The activations by these companies help propel the Copa Lagos beyond the beach into our consciousness every year.

Potentials and Challenges
The Copa Lagos as an annual celebration of beach soccer and culture has become a major event during the December period. It brings out fun seekers who are looking to let their hair down after the grind of the metropolis work week. While Lagos could do with more events like the Copa Lagos on a regular basis, the beach event offers a worthy option for young people and families to gather.
After seven years of running the Copa Lagos, the sport of beach soccer has not gained much in terms of penetration. Despite the breadth of the Lagos coast line, there is still no domestic beach soccer league organised to keep the sport going before the Copa Lagos rolls around every year. Every challenge is an opportunity. The Copa Lagos has opened our eyes to the big picture, there is a need to start looking at broadening the local engagement with the sport.

Friday December 8, 2017
Arsenal BSC vs Kebbi BSC
Spain vs Lebanon
Pepsi Football Academy vs Gidi Sharks
Morocco vs Nigeria

Saturday December 9, 2017
Nigeria vs Lebanon
Arsenal BSC vs Pepsi Football Academy
Spain vs Morocco
Kebbi BSC vs Gidi Sharks

Sunday December 10, 2017
Pepsi Football Academy vs Kebbi BSC
Lebanon vs Morocco
Gidi Sharks vs Arsenal BSC
Nigeria vs Spain