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YOUTH SOCCER IN NIGERIA
In the world of sport, one of the greatest names is ‘Soccer’. Although it is widely referred to as football in most countries (except for the USA and Canada) it is a universal game that brings the whole world together. Its governing body, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in 1904 including the fact that its official rule was documented in the late 18th century. FIFA also reported that it has about 250 million players, 1.3 billion fans and 28 billion television audiences around the world. The population of players documented are the ‘Registered’ excluding unregistered players who are also passionate and enthusiastic about the game. These statistics proofs the world’s great participation in football. The basic rule of the game is to put the ball at the back of the opposition’s net with any part of the body except the hand. It consists of eleven players among which a goalkeeper (who can use hands on the ball during play) is required. The game is played at various levels and divisions giving room for both genders and various age groups. The youthful age simply refers to that period of time between childhood and maturity, so in a straightforward manner I would describe youth football as the level of football that accommodates players coming up from their ‘Feeder-age’ to the level of a mature, standard and professional football.
FIFA gives room for youth development and as result organizes competitions from grass-root levels to world cup games such as the Olympics, the under-17, and under-20 FIFA world cup. Youths are allowed to display their talents and show the world how passionate they are about the game. Every one of the professional football players passed through youth football and since Rome was not built in a day, they developed gradually to acquire their greatest potentials. Nigeria, often referred to as ‘Giant of Africa’ constitutes about one-seventh of the population of the continent ‘she’ is one of the most popular and successful countries in African-football. Although there is an alarming rate of unemployment and poverty, the people embrace football as a comforter and a great gift of humanity. An average 2-year old Nigerian child(usually a boy) terms his ‘default’ fun as kicking stones, or plastic balls usually called ‘PANKE’ in the Yoruba ethnic language. The Nigerian youths are avid sport fans. The Nigerian football federation (NFF) governs the footballing activities in the country.
Nigerian youths went into the record books in 1996 at the Olympic went into the record books in 1996 at the Olympic Games where the national team claimed the Gold medal in Atlanta, Georgia. Youth soccer varies in categories and stages. Starting from street soccer which is now gaining a lot of stance and sponsorship brings youth from various streets in a local government together to play for medals and trophies. The school also contribute to youth football by organizing inter-school competitions such as the principal’s cup which cuts across various states of the federation. Corporate bodies, in addition contribute their quota in youth football, as they organize competitions across the federation such as the SHELL cup, Coca-Cola cup, Challenge cup and lots more. In fact, the Nigerian premier league which accommodates professional Nigerian footballers, club sides also give rooms for youth clubs who also participate in some cup matches and competitions. Compared to the European football, the pitches are drier (due to the weather condition) and the games are slower with more focus on individual skills and flairs.
Generally, in the Nigerian football history, the youth soccer has been particularly more successful considering the fact that Nigeria performs better in youth football (both genders, male and female) over the years. Some remarkable memories like the 2005 FIFA under-20 Male championship in Netherland where Nigeria was at the finals, 2008 Olympics where Nigeria was also in the finals against Argentina, 2010 FIFA under-20 Women Championship with Nigeria in the finals with Germany, can never be forgotten in the Nigerian football life. Actually, Nigerian youth soccer is battling with some itches as a result of factors like poverty and illiteracy. Most youth footballers are school drop-outs who cannot afford school fees or consider education a burden. Also, there is a very low level of sponsorship resulting into inadequate playing kits, poor First-Aid and standard treatments for injured players. The governmental and Non-governmental organizations are trying to curb these problems by trying to support both financially and morally.
To sum it up, a ‘Single-Story’ scenario should not be pictured about Nigerian youth soccer as it single headedly brings all ethnic groups in the Nation together, a major breakthrough in Nigeria, remembering that the capital of the country was shifted from Lagos to Abuja in 1991 due to ethnic conflicts. Rugby in South Africa brings the white and black South Africans together till date reduces racism to the lowest hierarchy. I will say on a concluding note that Nigeria youth soccer is a blessing to the nation.