I have the writer’s block.
I am mentally browsing and thinking.
I have Nigeria, Spain, and Cristiano Ronaldo on my mind.
Nigerian football is not thriving as well as it should because of the bedeviling internal crisis that endlessly rocks elections into the board of the federation, and throws up administrators that do not represent the best of the country’s rich football stock.
Elections into the board always stirs up a storm that never clears up throughout the board’s tenure, only to repeat itself again at the next elections. This ‘game’ has been going on for almost three decades, ‘protected’ by an all-powerful FIFA with vested interest in even the worst of federations. No one or governments can do anything about it.
So, under the protective umbrella of FIFA and its statutes, presidents of national football federations have become tin-gods, untouchable under almost all situations. The consequence of this, of course, is the unbridled non-accountability by most federations to any supervisory external authority.
In Nigeria, the current board was directed by the federal government that funds most of its activities and under which it exists as a parastatal, to amend its constitution in order to accommodate sidelined stakeholders in Nigerian football. The board has not moved a muscle to amend anything, turning its back to previous pledges and going on with its activities and business. The world can go take a running jump.
Many Nigerians erroneously think that this powerlessness against federation heads is limited to Nigeria. Now, I believe they know better – it thrives even in the most sophisticated of football climes, as we witnessed in Spain recently.
Spain is one of the most powerful football countries in the world. Its La Liga is one of the two biggest, most followed and most lucrative leagues, parading some of the world’s best players. The other country is England and its Premiership.
Spain is also home to two of the greatest clubs in the world in Real Madrid and Barcelona FC. It is one of only two countries in history to win the Men’s as well as Women’s FIFA World Cup. The other is Germany.
The President of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, a relatively unknown football boss outside Europe, came under the searchlight of a recent event that provides an opportunity to witness the awesome power that national football presidents wield.
During the closing ceremony of last month’s Women’s FIFA World Cup, as the players filed past the line of standing dignitaries to be decorated with medals, Rubiales held the head of Jenni Hermoso, one of the players, a midfielder, in a firm grip, and planted a kiss on her lips. He did it with impunity, totally in disregard of the consequences of such an open and vexatious display without the consent of the lady that is not his wife, and before a global television audience.
To compound matters, he disdainfully dismissed any issue of wrong-doing. Even when his poor conduct was pointed out to him, he showed neither remorse nor regret.
There was a global outcry of condemnation and protests in several parts of the world, with calls for his immediate resignation. He not only refused to resign from his exalted position as head of the football federation, he also ‘dared’ any authority to remove him from the office. Not even the country’s government could do anything to effect what needed to be done.
That’s the parallel with Nigeria. Even the government was powerless to do anything, least of all to make the President of the football federation resign.
The coach of the team was sacked. Other members of the board resigned. Mr. Rubiales stood his ground, defiantly proclaiming the ‘innocence’ of his indecent act that he insisted was consensual, and completely refusing to accept any responsibility.
With an eye-opening move, it was the players in the national team of Spain that pulled out the final straw. This past week it was put to the test as the Spanish heroic World Champions dared to do what ‘Napoleon Bonaparte could not do’. The women took the collective decision not to play in the national team again unless and until the President resigned and reforms were injected into the statutes of the Federation guaranteeing them equal rights and privileges.
No amount of bluffing could work again. Luis Rubiales took the long walk into the bin of Spanish football history, and resigned!As I write this on Thursday night, Spanish football is in a state of uncertainty and shock! The demands of the players have not been fully met.
Wahala dey o. it has been Player-power at its effective best! Football administration and its politics may never be the same again with the new awareness of the power of players to drive reforms that will protect their interests and rights. Nigerian football had better watch out!
Last Tuesday night, an ageing Cristiano Ronaldo, 38 and well-past his best, led his new Saudi Arabian team, Al Nassr, to Iran for a Confederation of Asian Football League match against Persepolis. For 7 years the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran had been strained by political developments totally unconnected with sport. With diplomatic relations broken between the countries, Iran could no longer play their home matches in their country that was declared a security risk for visiting teams. Saudi Arabia placed a ban on their teams playing in Iran, depriving football followers the pleasure of watching their teams.
One player’s presence changed all of that narrative with the first visit by a Saudi team to Iran. Preparing for the visit helped to thaw the relationship between the two countries through the restoration of diplomatic relations. A healing process that would have taken probably years was abridged overnight with the reports that CR7 was physically coming to play in Iran.
Billboards of the great football icon adorned and brightened the once-darkened streets of Tehran as the youths came out in droves setting aside differences, stormed the airport and the streets celebrating the presence of a football god among them.
This past week, it has been Player-power in full bloom.
It serves as a reminder once again, that football, if strategically deployed can contribute a great deal to securing peace and spreading friendship between humans across the world.
Football and footballers have that power!