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Why Nigeria, not Ghana, must be in Qatar – Message from Idorenyi Uyoe

By Segun Odegbami
26 March 2022   |   4:17 am
I am writing this on Thursday night. I have to do so in order to meet editorial and production deadlines.

[FILES] Super Eagles . Photo/twitter/NGSuperEagles

I am writing this on Thursday night. I have to do so in order to meet editorial and production deadlines.

I should naturally be writing about the ‘Big Matches’, the two World Cup qualifiers between Ghana and Nigeria, (one came up yesterday in Kumasi, Ghana, and the return leg shall be played three days from now in Abuja, Nigeria).

It is impossible for me to do justice to a proper preview of both matches. By the time you are reading this, the first match would have been played, won or lost. I need to know the result of the first match to preview the second next Tuesday night.

That’s impossible and awkward.

That leaves me in a quandary, sandwiched and stranded between the two matches between two of the biggest football rivals in Africa. Interestingly, the two teams have not played each other in 11 years.

For an academic purpose only, comparing the teams, player-to-player, on their most recent performances, on the feelers we are receiving from both camps on their psychology, and on the stability and confidence inside the two national camps, there should only be one winner – the Super Eagles. Next Tuesday night, they should secure their ‘boarding passes’ to Qatar 2022.

Beyond football, it is important that Nigeria uses the opportunity of the World Cup to take up its rightful place in world affairs, something that the ongoing war in Ukraine has thrown up again.

As I was struggling to put my thoughts down one of the Klitschko Brothers, a Ukrainian former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, was asked why he joined the armed forces of Ukraine in the fight against the invasion by Russia.

His response speaks volumes. It is a useful reminder to all Black persons on earth, led by Nigeria to take winning and representing the interest of the Black race in international affairs very seriously.

He said: ‘We do not want to live as slaves. It is our country, it is our home, it is our freedom’.

So, they are fighting back, even to the death.

For over half a Millennium the Black race, with Africa as his roots, is still in ‘enslavement’ on earth. That is the stark reality.

Yet, Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that can lead that essential battle for emancipation. Sports diplomacy, of which the World Cup is a platform, is an essential tool.

A United Nations official said on the Russia/Ukraine crisis: ‘The only solution is diplomacy’.

I have the permission of Idorenyin Uyoe, a Sports Diplomacy advocate, to publish his words to me sent via voicemail a few days ago on Sports Diplomacy. They speak loud and deep.

The following are his unedited words:

“My brother from another mother.

I hope you are doing well.

I just want to share a couple of thoughts.
I have been following some of the discussions in the Sports Parliament and I am about a week late to the discussion on Ukraine. I hope you don’t mind me sharing my opinion like this.

This might be a good one for the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the sports wing of the NIIA, to take up the area of sport diplomacy as related to conflict and conflict resolution, and whether or not Nigeria has a strong enough brand to even weigh in on the Ukrainian crisis.

This is what I mean by that.

Back in 1976, you were part of this, when Nigeria led the boycott of the ‘76 Olympics with Chief Abraham Ordia, Nigeria was a strong international brand, it had a strong currency, the naira was really vibrant, Nigeria had strong institutions: Unilag, Ife, Nsukka, Unical, these were the institutions that you could have direct admission into any school overseas for your post graduate programme without having to take any further exam.

Nigeria also had a strong national airline.

In those days the country could, in fact, conduct sports diplomacy with absolute confidence and with absolute authority. That is why the country was able to lead that boycott. So, countries like Ghana and others could come in under the Nigerian wing.
Nigeria provided an umbrella of cover for the other African countries so that they could participate in the boycott, and they took part in the boycott. That brand is what allowed Nigeria to fight Apartheid to a standstill, which, we know, was like fighting the West.

Nigeria stood strong in 1976, saying NO to the Olympic Games and when the USA tried to influence Nigeria to stay away from the Olympic Games in 1980, four years later, Nigeria was one of the countries that said NO, we are going to the Olympics and here is why. And the country did dictate, once again, its role in international diplomacy.

Today, I have concerns that the country does not have same standing. Here is what I mean by that: So, the FIFA 2018 World Cup was held in Russia and Nigeria qualified. Suppose that was 2022 World Cup, and all these countries are saying that they want to boycott the 2022 World Cup to be held in Russia (not Qatar), does any African Country have the standing and clout to stay away from these games? And we all know that China now has a hidden hand in this war, right? I mean, China has been maintaining a posture of neutrality but we all know that they are the silent power in this war.

So, if China says to any African Country, ‘oya, if you stay away from this World Cup you will see me, you dare not stay away from this World Cup’.

My question is, does any country in Africa have what it takes to say NO to China? Do we?

In 1976, nobody could tell Nigeria what to do. And because nobody could tell Nigeria what to do, the other African countries will come and hide under the wing of Nigeria and know that they were protected.

If the 2022 World Cup were to be held in Russia, does any of the five African qualifiers have the ability to boycott that World Cup? Or will a hidden hammer of China come and say, ‘oya, if you stay away from that World Cup, we shall deal with you’.

Will we be able to say NO to China?

So, the real question is that, do we have the standing to engage in effective sport diplomacy today? Do we? Do we have the institutions to say NO to countries like China? I mean, this has to be part of a policy debate, and when we do say NO to China, or Russia, they also have the interest in Nigeria and other African countries.

If we merge together, will China then be able to dictate to African countries what to do, because we all know that China needs African countries to feed itself, right? Without Africa, China cannot feed itself in the future.

So, do we have the unity as a continent to then bind together and say ‘you know what, we disagree with this action in Ukraine, therefore, all African countries are saying we are not going’.

Or will we have that rogue country, or rogue state, that will say, ‘you know what, we are going’.

So, my comment is this:
1976 is the first and only time in world history that the black nations successfully implemented a sports boycott in the Olympic Games. Does any country now have the standing to engage in a sports boycott in 2022, or beyond, right? We are in 2022. Do we have the institutions?

Big Seg, you mentioned that Baba (Obasanjo) sent a Jet to come and pick you athletes up at the ‘76 Olympic Games. Where is even that Jet today? Do we even have a Nigeria Airways Jet that can go and pick anybody anywhere in the world? Do we have? Where is the Green/White/Green airways that can go and rescue the Athletes if anything happens?

Anyway, that is my contribution, my brother. I just said let me share that with you. I just thought I would weigh in on the discussion that came up on the Sports Parliament, I think, two weeks ago.

Alright Big Seg, hope you are doing well my friend, take care and we will chat soon”.

In Idorenyin’s words lie a deep message that every Nigerian, indeed every Black person, must think about deeply.

It connects with why Nigeria should be in Qatar 2022, why these two matches are really do-or-die for the Super Eagles, why the Eagles must dim the Stars.