Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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The Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA World Cup 2022 dubbed as the world’s greatest sporting fiesta, kicked off yesterday in Qatar. Yet, there is practically nothing in the air to catch our fancy about it. There is little excitement, frenzy about this World Cup. It is as though there is something abnormal, different about this 2022 World football tournament. And it is indeed so. For, normally in a World Cup month as now, the excitement and frenzy about it would have been building up several weeks to its commencement, reaching fever pitch by now. We would have seen frenzied preparations for it all over as people would have been resuscitating their faulty television sets; many others would have been buying new ones, especially LED, plasma TVs, even with their last cash. We would also have seen frenzied renewals of cable television subscriptions and boom in Nigeria’s own digital pay television (Star Times). Also, corporate organisations, big and small, would have been wetting our appetite for this global fiesta with enticing promotions. They would have been wooing us to patronise their products with a chance to win some fabulous prizes, including sponsorship to see matches live in Qatar. Our mass media, radio, television, internet would have been replete with advertisements, promotions, shows on the World Cup. In brief, by now, wherever we turn to, we would have been confronted with the sights and sounds of the World Cup. So much so that even the deaf would have heard about it so to speak.
However, for World Cup 2022, wherever we turn to, we are accosted with noise from the political firmament. The frenzy and apprehension about outcome of next year’s general election which would be a watershed in Nigeria’s democratic march is growing by the day. Cover stories of our print media, headline stories of radio and television news and trending social media stories are mostly related to politics these days. Thus, while the World Cup is ranked as the world’s greatest global fiesta, this year’s competition is not as infectious nor as hypnotising as it used to be with previous World Cups, for Nigerians at least. While the world would have its eyes fully fixated at happenings in Qatar, Nigerians would at same time be watching and following diligently, events in the political arena. Thus, it would be divided attention, thereby distracting Nigerians’ somehow, from the global tournament.
In the days of jack boot military dictatorship, football was a veritable public relations tool for our military regimes. And they used it to the fullest, both internationally and locally. At the local level it became the greatest weapon to unite Nigerians; such that when the national team are playing against another country, most Nigerians make it a point of duty to watch or follow the match, live. Nigerians one and all, put aside all primordial sentiments and fault lines to cheer the players with gusto. All Nigerians become patriotic citizens at such times. Such international competitive tournaments involving the Eagles – whether Super Eagles, Flying Eagles, Golden Eaglets – also served/serve as some sort of distraction, to take Nigerians’ attention away from the foibles of the military junta or any ruling government. It was the best time to take some hard decisions, when the people have their eyes fixated on something else, away from the leaders and its attendant scrutiny. Football as does other sports remains a veritable public relations tool. However, because the World Cup commands the highest global audience, it is arguably the best public relations tool.
However, Nigeria’s flag is not among the 32 select countries whose flag are fluttering high in Qatar during the month-long duration of the fiesta. Nigeria did not qualify for this World Cup finals in Qatar. Nigeria, the giant of Africa, the most populous country in the continent with the largest economy in Africa, is not amongst the five nations that are representing our continent of 52 nations. This is a big disappointment for football crazy Nigerians. And it has lowered by some notches, the average Nigeria’s interest in this World Cup 2022. Only die-hard football fans would generally be watching the games live with some enthusiasm. The majority of Nigerians have more pressing things to worry about at this time, particularly, how to keep body and soul together. That, in fact, is yet another distraction for Qatar 22 World Cup in Nigeria.
With run-away inflation heralded by rising cost of goods and services literally every day, Nigerians are currently focussed on how to keep their heads above water; more so when year 2022 would end after next month and bills would come tumbling in – house rent, school fees, utility bills and so on and so forth – all of which are rising. Thus, Nigerians are facing a battle of survival, how to stay alive till end of 2022, unto 2023 with little or no collateral injury to themselves, be it physical, psychological or spiritual. That is why they are keenly following the forthcoming general election in February. They are hoping that whoever wins the presidential race, whoever he may be, given their promises to Nigerians, would be able to lighten their earthly burdens.
Can we imagine what the atmosphere would have been like if the Super Eagles had qualified for this competition and are unbeaten or even defeat their opponent in their opening game? Nigerians would have been upbeat months before the tournament. They would have gleefully welcomed its kick off and the super Eagles good performance would have ripped apart the gloom in the land, smiles would have pervaded our land at least for as long as the national team continued to give a good account of themselves. Laughter (genuine) is indeed the best medicine. As it is the bubble burst with Nigeria’s non qualification for this quadrennial show piece and Nigerians are left at start of World Cup 2022 wallowing in depression generally. Of course, football fanatics will still be watching Qatar World Cup 2022 but they would be doing so rather half heatedly, with one eye on the screen and the other on the future, wondering what is to come thereafter, whether 2023 would herald better times for them, for Nigerians.