FC Barcelona and UNICEF Have a Point

FC Barcelona Stadium, Camp Nou     Photo Credit: African Press Club

Dateline: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

Nigerians adore soccer almost to the point of being fanatical. You’d be hard-pressed to find an uncle, brother, dad, male colleague that will pay attention to anything else once the game is on. They know all the clubs from Manchester United to Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Chelsea FC, Juventus, FC Barcelona, etc. They are die-hard fans. They lionize their clubs. They revere their favorite players. That’s the way it is.

In its heydays, our national soccer team Super Eagles was totally mesmerizing. It took no prisoners. It made us proud. Soccer was the one thing that unified us as a country because everyone wholeheartedly and unquestionably rooted for the team’s success. So, when a Meetup group of international development professionals that I belong to was invited to FC Barcelona auditorium in Camp Nou this week, I could not say no. How could I?

Armed with the knowledge of what soccer means to my kith and kin, it will almost be sacrilege of some sorts not to step foot on Camp Nou while in Barcelona. My people would expect that I experience the magic on their behalf or at least have a story to tell. In fact, my uncle had already hinted that he wants a Jersey from Lionel Messi, end of story! Hmmmmmm. That’s a tall order but you never know.

I’m not a soccer fan. My only memory of really being excited about the game was in the 90s when the Super Eagles was playing in the world cup. The atmosphere in my community in Lagos was electrifying. Neighbors instinctively poured into the streets screaming with immense joy, jumping, drumming, thumping their fists and hugging one another whenever the team scored. When the other team scored, people cried like infants denied milk by their mothers. Emotions were raw. It’s unbelievable the impact soccer has on people. Super Eagles players such as Emmanuel Amunike, Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Taribo West, Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini, Jay-jay Okocha, Segun Odegbami are legendary figures. These names arouse memories of a great time in our history.

Camp Nou got my undivided attention this week. The occasion was the release of a report titled “Getting into the Game: Understanding the Evidence for Child-Focused Support for Development.” It was commissioned by the Barca Foundation, the charity arm of FC Barcelona and carried out by a research team of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Office of Research. In a nutshell, the report confirms what many may already know, that sports play a crucial role in the development of children.

In response to the report, the President of FC Barceona Josep Maria Bartomeu remarked: “Our commitment to evidence and rigor will have an enormous impact on the organization that work in this field, improving the actions and positively impacting the lives of millions of children.”

Barca Foundation and UNICEF work in partnership to help children in different countries have access to sports, education, play and leisure. They say nearly two million children across the world have been impacted by their work since this partnership began in 2006. I understood through the event that 2019 marks 30 years of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which upholds the right of every child to play, leisure, and partaking in social activities.

In what is termed as a second phase, they hope to test the recommendations of the report on programs funded by FC Barcelona in South Africa, China, Brazil, Ghana and some other conflict-torn countries.

The UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Charlotte Petri Gornitzka also observed that: “it’s long been understood that sport promotes children’s health, and physical development, but now we have solid evidence to suggest that sport can have a powerful impact on their overall education and life skills development.”

For me, it goes without saying that children should be allowed to enjoy plenty of leisure. At the playground, they learn social skills, problem solving skills, independence, team spirit, etc. This way, they grow up mentally strong, equipped to take on real life challenges. In today’s fast-paced world of acute, mindless competition, some parents tend to over burden their children with academic related activities. The pressure to achieve is so much that it often backfires. The result is broken adults who barely function properly on their own

I’m not a parent. Nonetheless, I speak from the viewpoint of my experiences growing up. In primary school, playtime was plentiful during and after school. In secondary school, I tried every sports available – short races, long races, high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin etc. I remember my childhood with nostalgia. We didn’t have expensive gadgets and toys. It’s not about money. We simply played and had a great deal of fun. The children initiated social activities amongst themselves. Parents were habitually not involved. Children need that – the freedom to be children.

Next: I have to watch a soccer match at Camp Nou and do a tour of the stadium. It is only after that, that I can proudly say my FC Barcelona experience is complete!

How was your own childhood? Did you experience the joy of being a kid? What are you facing bringing up your children today? Please get involved in the conversation. Enjoy and have a great weekend!




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