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.