West Africa should wake up to the reality of what is going as the world prepares to host the biggest sports event in history in 2030, the Centennial World Cup. In that year, divinely scripted for West Africa, it will be Africa’s turn again to host the World Cup, in accordance with an unwritten but generally accepted arrangement by FIFA. Two weeks ago, I thought I had come to the end of my tether in making Nigerians and some West African countries see and understand why they should combine forces to host the most lucrative, most prestigious and most coveted sports event in the world. The last time Africa hosted the event was in 2010. In that year, South Africa were the beneficiaries of Africa’s first attempt to host it. It was considered one of the most enjoyable of the World Cups since the championship began in 1930. It was a colourful and richly cultural event that wowed the world. 8 years before that in 2003, I had floated the idea of Africa’s first World Cup to be jointly hosted by 5 neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region, led by Nigeria, getting the automatic ticket to participate if it won the bid for the 2010 edition.
Many of my countrymen were not impressed with the idea, pointing at FIFA’s immediate negative reaction following the relative lack of success of the first joint hosting done by Korea and Japan in 2002. They also considered, justifiably, the dilapidated state of infrastructure and facilities in Nigeria, plus several other factors that stood in the way of such a dream in an African country where its people had no confidence in themselves and in their ability to add any value to their world through the World Cup. They saw it as a potentially wasteful venture, another White Elephant that would be used by corrupt officials in government to syphon the resources of the country again, after the experience of COJA 2003.
My idea was shot down on the tarmac of consideration by a section of the Nigerian media, a public that had been mentally pauperized not to believe in any lofty dreams, and a government perpetually at war with itself (Obasanjo and Atiku were then at each other’s throats). Between these stakeholders, they chose not to see the World Cup as a potential burden and in ignorance ceded the rights to an over-joyous South Africa that seized the opportunity and used it judiciously to showcase its potential as the next tourist destination of the first choice in Africa. Many people around the world, had looked at the poor handling of the Korea/Japan championship of 2002 and concluded that joint hosting was not an attractive future option. Whereas even a cursory look at the potential benefits of such an arrangement, something that Mr Blatter later saw when I presented it to him with the Nigerian Minister of Sports in attendance, and he described as a most brilliant despite the failure of the 2002 experiment, would reveal unimaginable potential benefits. Since then the unwritten but well understood and operated rotational arrangement of the choice of HOST of the World Cup has gone around the continents (except Australasia):
2010 – South Africa – Africa
2014 – Brazil – South America
2018 – Russia – Europe
2022 – Qatar – Asia
2026 – the USA, Canada and Mexico joint bid – (North America).
In 2030, the Centennial year of the World Cup, it should be Africa’s turn again! This event, because of its significance, will not be conceded to the continent on an emotional basis only. The continent must fight to justify hosting it through demonstrating the political will, the strength of preparedness, capability and vision, all excellently packaged and presented and made to look even better than the South African World Cup, a truly African show. The 2030 World Cup must be the platform for West Africa to announce a final break from the shackles of mental slavery and physical underdevelopment and promote its emergence as an equal partner in the advancement of humanity through its arts, culture, entertainment and sports. That’s why Nigeria, the most powerful Black country on earth, the most populated, potentially the richest in terms of resources (natural and intellectual), probably the most successful Black and African country in world football, and an economic, political and cultural giant, must champion this cause. The benefits of a joint bid, now accepted and embraced as the only way forward for future World Cups with multifaceted benefits to a whole region of the world rather than one single country, will make a West African bid very attractive, feasible, practical, simple to organize, and a major catalyst for true political, economic, social and cultural development and integration of the sub-region. In the past week, there have been developments that could truncate not just the unwritten understanding about the rotation of the World Cup, but also Africa’s chances of hosting the Centennial World Cup in 2030.
1. Asia has come up with a proposed joint bid with 3 giant countries – China, South Korea and Malaysia.
2. The United Kingdom is preparing to launch a joint
5-nation bid of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
3. South America is conducting a study and has indicated it would launch a bid involving Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Argentina.
4. An audacious bid across two continents is also been contemplated – an Afro – European bid involving Morocco, Spain and Portugal.
5. There is another European (the Balkans bid) involving Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece also in the pipeline.
Why this sudden interest in joint bids?
The world has woken up to the power of the World Cup to drive political, social, cultural and economic agenda of entire regions and even a continent, as in the case of the 2026 North American bid. Nigeria started the process, albeit halfheartedly in 2003, before abandoning it. The documents of that bid still exist and can be re-opened with a new study to be conducted with representation from West African countries that would be interested to be a part of such an ambitious project. It must be done quickly, now! West Africa will never be the same again after that project. The region would use the World Cup to drive its biggest dreams since the early 1960s when the region was to be turned into one single market, with one currency, common border and security, and common tourism objectives. The time to start is now. If in 10 years, the region cannot successfully put together a befitting World Cup that would catalyse its overall development, by sharing the burden and jointly enjoying the benefits, then something is definitely wrong with us as Black people!