Almost nowhere on earth is football followed as passionately as in Africa. It is loved by Africans from all walks of life across the continent. This week, I am giving the opening address at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Awards in Accra, Ghana. This has afforded me a good opportunity to reflect on Africa’s relationship with football and how it can help deliver a brighter future for our young people.
I believe we need only look to the Liberian presidential election for a fine example of the transformative power of football. Against the odds, football legend and opposition candidate, George Weah was victorious and today, is President-elect of Liberia, one of Africa’s most popular countries. Weah’s perseverance in the face of an initial unsuccessful attempt is a testament to the endurance football teaches.
Before he was a Presidential candidate, of course, Mr. Weah was an outstanding footballer whose career spanned great clubs like Paris Saint Germain, Marseille, Monaco and even English Premiership giants like Chelsea and Manchester City.
A striker of fearsome reputation, Weah has been described as the greatest footballer to emerge from Africa, confirmed in 1995 when he won both FIFA Footballer of the Year and the highly valued Ballon d’Or. Over a three year period, in 1989, 1995 and 1996, he claimed the top prize of African Footballer of the year, crowning that in 1996 with the African Footballer of the Century award.
The power of a footballer entering frontline politics cannot be overstated, for two reasons. First, it shows that politics is accessible to all, to the ambitious individual who dares envisage a way he or she can contribute to their country’s future. Second, it makes politics interesting and relevant to young people. If our continent is ever to reach its full potential, then it is our young people who are going to deliver it.
Africa’s youth are already shaping today and redefining tomorrow with their creativity, passion and innovation. I believe that the greatest gift that our generation can give them is to continue to provide platforms for aspiration, recognition and inspiration. But the idea of ‘opportunity’ or of ‘potential’ can be an abstract enough concept to adults never mind the younger generation, many of whom have been overlooked by the decisions of governments not to allow funds raised from investment to trickle down into stronger education systems, apprenticeships and advancement.
In football, the notion of opportunity is far from abstract. Football has always been a unifying factor and a great tool for promoting integration and development. But more than that, it is a global currency, a language spoken in the United Kingdom as much as in Brazil, China and Nigeria. And in football we see, most tangibly, the bold young role models and ambassadors of Africa who are inspiring others and have set the pace in their pursuit of excellence.
Of course, we must be careful not to set false expectations. Football is affected by the same attrition rate that applies to other sports in that very many are called but few ultimately make the dizzy heights that many dream of. President Barack Obama pointed out that youth in the United States may have good role models for economic empowerment and entrepreneurship in the music industry, but that it was unlikely that each child would grow up ‘to be the next Lil Wayne’, so children must also work hard in school. The same can be said of football: not all of our children will grow up to be the next George Weah, Abedi Pele, Dider Drogba or Jay Jay Okocha, but these role models still offer young people a concrete example of the hard work that goes into the pursuit of excellence.
The example of football goes far beyond the 22 men or women who stand on the pitch for 90 minutes each week. I know this because I have seen the extraordinary depth of support services that go into creating the finished product of a football match, and the transformative role they play when properly looked after.
Over the last year, Aiteo has been supporting sports development in Nigeria, leading a partnership agreement with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) to provide financial Support to the technical team of Nigeria’s national team for the next five years. In the months since, Nigeria has won more games than they have lost and has qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Aiteo has also made significant contributions towards developing the local football by underwriting the costs associated with organising the Federation Cup, Nigeria’s equivalent of the English FA Cup, helping smaller teams grow and improve on the national stage.
With coaching roles, training roles, marketing, advertising, commercial partnerships and merchandising roles all part of the infrastructure of a newly-global Nigerian football team, no child need only grow up to be the next Alex Iwobi if they are to benefit from the transformative power of football. If a footballer can become the head of a nation, they why not a football coach, a medic or a marketing executive?
So, when I stand on the stage this week to open the CAF Awards, the winners will be very clear to me before the awards have even been handed out: the true winners will be every young person who sees that event; sees that the eyes of the world are on Africa and that a future for each one of them exists in which they can go beyond their school, their hobbies, their parents, and truly embrace their potential. Because the way we conceive the future sculpts the present.
By Benedict Peters, Executive vice president of the Aiteo Group
£53m Deal: Chelsea close to signing Werner
Chelsea are closing in on a deal to sign striker Timo Werner from RB Leipzig, British media reported Thursday.
The 24-year-old had been thought to be attracting interest from Premier League champions-elect Liverpool but it appears Chelsea have in fact met the German’s reported release clause of some £53 million ($67 million).
Were Chelsea to bring Werner to Stamford Bridge it would be a major feather in the cap of the west London club.
For the past year, there has been speculation linking Werner with a move to Anfield but time appears to be running out for the Reds, with the forward’s release clause expiring on June 15 — two days before the Premier League is set to restart after a coronavirus-enforced break of several months.
The Germany international has scored 31 goals for Leipzig in all competitions.
Chelsea have already agreed on a deal to sign Ajax winger Hakim Ziyech.
3 months after, English premier league to start by June 17
The Premier League season is set to restart on June 17, three months after it was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was widely reported on Thursday.
No matches have been played in the English top-flight since Leicester’s 4-0 win over Aston Villa on March 9, with Liverpool just two wins away from securing the title.
The BBC reported that the first two matches would be Aston Villa v Sheffield United and Manchester City v Arsenal. Those matches are the two games in hand.
A full fixture list would then be played on the weekend of June 19-21, the reports said, with matches to be played behind closed doors.
The Premier League suspended all fixtures in March after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for COVID-19.
There are still 92 matches to play and although Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool appear certain to be crowned champions, the relegation and European qualification still need to be resolved.
– Training return –
Top-flight clubs voted unanimously on Wednesday to return to contact training and were meeting again on Thursday to discuss issues including the restart date and the rebate to broadcasters.
It is predicted that clubs face repaying up to £340 million ($419 million) to broadcasters.
So far, just 12 people have tested positive for coronavirus after 2,752 tests across the Premier League.
Germany’s Bundesliga resumed earlier this month and La Liga in Spain hopes to return from June 11, while a crucial summit between Italian football officials and the country’s sports minister will be held later on Thursday.
Liverpool are 25 points clear at the top of the table while Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City are in the relegation places.
The leaders could clinch the title with victory in their first game back should second-placed Manchester City lose to Arsenal.
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho spoke this week of his desperation to get playing again after seeing football resume elsewhere.
“Honestly, since the moment the Bundesliga started, the Portuguese league and Spanish league announced a date to start, I think it is the most difficult moment for us, because we want to play,” he told Sky Sports.
Some players have voiced fears over their safety and that of their families due to the virus.
Watford captain Troy Deeney has revealed that people have told him they want his baby son to contract coronavirus after he chose not to return to training.
Deeney has been absent from training since Watford and other Premier League clubs returned to non-contact sessions last week.
“I saw some comments in regards to my son, people saying: ‘I hope your son gets corona’,” Deeney told CNN Sport.
“That’s the hard part for me. If you respond to that, people then go: ‘Ah, we’ve got him’ and they keep doing it.”
Deeney is understood to be due to resume training next week.
In Spain, five footballers test positive for COVID-19
No fewer than five players from Spain’s top two leagues have tested positive for coronavirus, La Liga confirmed on Sunday.
Players in Spain’s top-flight and Segunda division were allowed to carry out individual work at training grounds last week.
The move was the beginning of a staggered training programme, with the aim to restart competitive games in the middle of June.
La Liga insist identifying infected players through positive tests are part of that plan.
The five players, who have not been officially named, will now be quarantined at home and tested again “in the next few days”.
They will be allowed to rejoin their club’s training programme only after obtaining two consecutive negative test results.
A La Liga statement read: “Among La Liga Santander and La Liga SmartBank (Segunda) clubs, five positive cases were detected in players, all of them asymptomatic and in the final phase of the disease.”
“One of the objectives of these medical tests, according to the La Liga’s protocol for returning to training, according to recommendations of the CSD (Supreme Sports Council) and the Ministry of Health, was precisely to detect the denominated or asymptomatic, that is, those people who are infected and that, without presenting symptoms, they can infect other people,” the statement added.
“In this way, we guarantee everyone’s safety when returning to work according to the occupational risk regulations.”
La Liga’s training plan includes players initially carrying out work individually before then expanding into small groups and finally taking part in larger team sessions.
Barcelona’s players were back for their first session on Friday while Real Madrid’s will return on Monday.
The medical protocol for training is strict and includes players arriving already changed and at specific times to avoid contact with others. They wear masks and gloves, and have their temperatures taken before entering the premises. At the end of training, they take away a bag of fresh kit for the next day and shower at home.
The league have not officially announced the timing for the resumption of competitive matches although Leganes coach Javier Aguirre said last week the proposed date is June 20.
That could correspond with the Spanish government’s de-escalation programme, which includes outside events being allowed to go ahead in their fourth and final phase, as long as they are attended by fewer than 400 people.
Football matches are expected to be staged behind closed doors for several months.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has said “it is not an option” to cancel the top flight given he estimates the economic fallout would cost clubs around a billion euros ($1.08 billion).
But the third and fourth tiers in Spain will not complete their seasons, as confirmed by the Spanish football federation (RFEF) on Wednesday. Instead, promotions will be decided through play-offs and there will be no relegations.
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