The Power of Sports

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

Dateline: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

Nigerians adore soccer. You’d be hard-pressed to find a brother or male colleague that will pay attention to anything else once the game is on. The famous clubs from Manchester United to Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Chelsea FC, Juventus, FC Barcelona, etc, are well known to them. They revere their favorite players, lionize their clubs and remain die-hard fans.

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 supported the team. 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 sort not to step foot on Camp Nou while in Barcelona. They expect that I experience the magic on their behalf or at least have a story to tell. Meanwhile, my uncle had already hinted that he wants a Jersey from Lionel Messi, end of story! Hmmmmmm. 

I’m not a soccer fan. My only memory of really being excited about the game was in the 90s when the Super Eagles played in the world cup. The atmosphere in my community in Lagos was electrifying. Neighbours 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. 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 were legendary figures. These names conjure images of greatness.

At Camp Nou this week, that memory came flooding back. 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.

The President of FC Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu remarked that: “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, researchers hope to test the recommendations of the report on programs funded by FC Barcelona in South Africa, China, Brazil, Ghana, and some 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 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 classes. In secondary school, I tried every sport 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.  Children need that – the freedom to be children.

How was your own childhood? Did you experience the joy of being a kid? What are your challenges  bringing up children today? In the meantime, please wish me luck with attending a match and getting a jersey from Lionel Messi!

Enjoy and have a great weekend.



  1. Hoorah for playtime! We sometimes played in the street growing up and would roam through the neighbours’ gardens as a gang of kids, entering through openings in the hedges. Best memories ever.

  2. Always my pleasure to make time and read your Barca Blog…if I can call it that…

    Yes, sports is key to childhood development and it teaches or incolcates important lessons for adulthood….team work, leadership, self awareness, discipline, etc..

    I attended a secondary school that was big on sports and till date I am reaping the benefits of a more active lifestyle.

    We need to get sports back into the curriculum of our youth as this has far more benefits than being locked up in a stuffy classroom for most of the day!

    Great write up!

  3. Awww, thanks people for your comments. Yes, Meekham, you can call it Barca Blog. In fact, you may have given me the title for a book: ‘The Barca Days.’

  4. Interesting piece. You can’t quantify the the impact of allowing kids to be kids. Street soccer in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late 70s and early 80s was to die for. We need to recreate those halcyon days of innocence.

  5. We can’t underestimate the power of sports and good sportsmanship. It teaches collaborative and cooperative skills that are transferable in other areas of life. Thank you for sharing! Keep it up!

  6. I hate that private schools in Nigeria are ruining the recreational side of education that produced balanced adults. Oh how I enjoyed the sports times especially during preparations for those endless sports competitions that produced great career sport people for our dear country.

    Today these are replaced with endless academic work that has not impacted much on the young populace.

    Why should govt approve private schools without any recreational facilities, with no plan for sports or inter school competitions.

    Bad governance has ruined everything in Nigeria. So sad

    But oh constance you missed the tales by moonlight that some of us enjoyed as children that grew up in villages. You must have also missed the drama during those moonlight hours… we played! Little wonder that taking my children to environment where they enjoy recreation is also top of my monthly priorities! And for their dad, toys is an investment… And when the opportunity to build a family house came, he devoted a room bigger than the sitting room as a playroom. Yes playing is a critical aspect of childhood.

    I hope that someone whispers to our inept govt, that a critical populace is missing out of their fundamental right… to play n to participate in sports. Stars have been born that way and to national credit.

    Can we get serious with re introduction of sports in the curriculum pls!

    Once in a year cheap inter house sport is grossly inadequate.

    Thank you Constance for igniting this fire.

    Back to sports indeed!

  7. Yes, Chido, I remember those street soccer days in Lagos as a child. Weekends, streets were cordoned off for play. It was natural. It was magic for the kids. I agree with you Ian. If I do get that Jersey, it merits another story

  8. Oby, I can imagine how awesome village tales by moonlight is. I only had a glimpse through the then popular television version of it. It was pure African tradition with all the goodness it has to offer. Quite a number of good traditions and culture have been wiped out. So called development has it’s bad sides. Have a great sunday everyone

  9. Interesting to read of the nostalgic stories of country and city life of childten in Nigeria. The UK was no different. Brought up in a village in Scotland gave tremendous freedom to roam the countryside on foot and on a bike as a kid. Swiming in the rivers and cooking potatoes on a fire made from tree branches was a delight. Not so being caught by the farmer for pinching his turnip to be eaten raw. We could name all the birds and and wild animals and fished for minnows using a sharp reed and worm on the end and put them in jam jars. Other times we guddled for guppies by cupping our hands in the water until a fish came along then quickly hoisted them out of the water. We put them back of course. My brother had a large stamp collection and I preferred football….often all day during holidays and weekends only to go home for lunch and dinner to replenish energy. A less worthwhile activity was to stand with the old men at the street corner and pick up their swear words only to repeat them to my mother at home being too young to understand what a swear word was. Bless her heart she quietly and kindly explained that we shouldn’t ever speak such words as they were not nice. 😊That lesson has stuck with me.
    At the age of 12 we moved to a town much to my relief as I had outgrown village life and gladly welcomed the change. Nevertheless village life at a young age allowed for unparalleled freedom hard to match in a city.

  10. Wonderful and apt. Sports nonetheless builds a child’s emotional capacity to think, adjust to critical issues and make rational choices in splits of seconds. My days at Federal government college was remarkable in that, our interhouse sports competition is always a period of excitements in various track and field events. It’s important for private public partners to engage actively in this industry back here in Nigeria. I hope you had the best of experience at Camp Nou?

  11. No cabe duda de que todo niño o niña tiene derecho a crecer feliz y tener las mismas oportunidades de desarrollo. No obstante, a día de hoy resulta una utopía. A pesar de ello siempre resulta positivo que organizaciones apuesten por el desarrollo de las sociedades tomando como partida la base que son los niños.

    He disfrutado mucho la lectura de tu publicación.

  12. For those who do not understand Spanish, the language in which Mariama wrote, she said children definitely have a right to be happy and to have opportunities. However, it’s somewhat an “utopia” these days. I like this. Please feel free to comment in whatever language. Some of my French speaking friends are slow to engage because of language barrier. Please any language is welcome. That’s the richness of our network.

  13. As a child, the only time I ever saw adults cry for a reason other than the loss of a loved one was after a football match between Enugu Rangers Fc and Bendel Insurance Fc. That was in 1978, I believe, when Insurance defeated the Rangers team that included the legendary Emmanuel Okalla and Christian Chukwu by 3 – 0. Forty years after that memory-searing experience, the allure of sports, especially football, remains. Sadly, we’re losing the capacity to grow local talents due to the collapse of school sports in Nigeria.

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