Kanu: The Greatest Trophy I’ve Won is Saving a Life



Startimes Nigeria, a leading paid television content provider in Africa, recently organised a tour of three African countries Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, to help position the brand among competitors. The company’s brand ambassador, Kanu Nwankwo, spoke with Ugo Aliogo, about the tour and other issues

Why did you embark on the Africa Tour?

As the brand ambassador of Startimes, we are trying to position it to be the leading football company content provider in Nigeria. As you are aware, the brand is for everyone just like Kanu is for everybody. The brand is cheap and it is affordable. If you can have as much as 70 channels and you pay just little to have that, it shows that the brand is for everyone. This is why Kanu is part of the company.

The good thing about the tour is we are not promoting Startimes, we are promoting Nigeria’s image because we are the giants of Africa in terms of sports. In every country we visited, they were happy to see me and this is a positive side for Nigeria.

What were you able to achieve during the tour?

The tour was about Startimes, and my presence as the brand ambassador of the brand gave the brand so much publicity, therefore it is good image promotion for the brand. Also, I conducted coaching clinics with the younger ones in the grassroots areas we visited. We visited rural areas to teach them football, educate them and make sure that I impact their lives.

Most of the kids were happy seeing me train with them. In Uganda, the area I was taken to was a very muddy place where people cannot even play football, but I saw kids playing football in the rain, and I also joined them playing the game. They enjoyed the game and they also learnt from it. When I visited Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, it was the same as being in Nigeria; they showed me a lot of love.

What is your assessment of Startimes as a brand in the midst of other competing brands?

Startimes is a very good brand which is trying to distinguish itself in the midst of competing brands. Presently, they are showing the German Bundesliga, and the Italian Serie A on their channels. These two football leagues are also part of the football powerhouse in Europe. In football, we don’t have to depend one league, it is a universal game; therefore, there is need for flexibility on the part of viewers. Startimes is trying to ensure that every football league is given coverage.

How do you think Startimes can help improve Nigerian football?

In Uganda, Startimes is sponsoring the two biggest clubs, while in Kenya and Tanzania, they are part of the football development process. I have sat with the management and we are planning on developing the game of football in Nigeria and in the continent. Also an ambassador of Startimes, I have to discuss with them on how to promote football leagues, to help the Nigeria youths and ensure that football develops in Nigeria. If we have the League Management Committee (LMC), the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and others involved in what we are doing, we will attain greater heights.

Since you began the tour, what are the things you have noticed about Africa?

Personally, I see Africa as one. When I entered some of the countries, they gave me warm reception and showed me love. I was not seen as a Nigerian; rather I was seen as one of them, which for me is very good. The other thing is the followership which the English Premier League (EPL) is enjoying across Africa. This is not healthy for us; there is need for the continent to diversify to other football leagues in Europe.

The third issue is health; with the Kanu Heart Foundation, I have been visiting other countries and partnering them in one way or the other. The number of people with heart conditions on the waiting list on the continent is much compared to those in Nigeria. Every country is struggling in that aspect. One unique factor about them is that even if they do not have four good hospitals to carry out the operation, they have one unique one which is very good. I do not think they are concerned about taking their patients to abroad for treatment.

The Kanu Heart Foundation is renowned in Nigeria. How have you created a relationship between the existing hospitals and your foundation?

One good thing about Startimes is that when they heard of the Kanu Heart Foundation, they keyed into what the foundation was doing and for it this is a very important step which motivated me to be part of the brand. They have the same idea which the foundation has, which is giving back to the society and they have also tried in one way or the other to help with what the foundation is doing. We have done launching to raise funds to build a hospital, but it did not work out. This will not discourage us, we have to keep doing what we are doing. If I have allowed some of the challenges we have faced to discourage us, we would not have carried out 500 operations. The more we raise funds, the more lives we touch. Therefore, if more companies and corporate bodies partner us we will be able to change lives.

What progress has been made in your charity initiative?

The foundation has been able to treat 500 privileged cases and this means a great deal of progress. The foundation stands to help the less-privileged ones and our work is to raise funds in one or the other. My work is to use my name and fame to support those individuals in need of help. Therefore, for any individual with heart problem, the first point of call is the Kanu heart foundation. We are highly committed to supporting individuals with heart issues.

In terms of support, how much have you achieved so far?

We want corporate organisations and the media to support us in order to save more lives. The media should be at the forefront spreading the message of what we are doing through publicity. The journey has not been easy for us, but if we have enough support from corporate organisations and individuals, we would have finished those ones on the waiting list, and built hospitals, but we have not done that.

We need funds in order to go to states in Nigeria so that we can clear those on the waiting lists (we have almost 100). If nothing is done, some of them will die. When I went to Uganda, the first point of call was the hospital. The business of changing lives is something is very special for us at the foundation and we do not take it for granted.

Apart from charity works, what are other things that you are doing?

Charity is something I love doing. For instance when I visited Kenya, I went to one of the hospital’s surgery rooms to see what they were using for surgery, kids that they have operated upon and other things that was helping them to make progress in heart surgery. I also asked questions and we interacted. Startimes and Kanu heart foundation are two bodies working together to help change lives. Whatever you do to help is something unique. I have other businesses which I do, I’m also the ambassador of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) therefore football is still part of me. I do not have to leave it behind; I still have to be part of it. In 2013, I was in South Africa, from the start of the tournament to the end, in each of the matches the Super Eagles played, during half time, I was at the dressing room to speak with the players on what to do.

When you see these kids with heart problems, what comes to your mind?

As a footballer, I have won a lot of trophies. But the greatest trophy I have won is saving a life. When I saw one of the kids after surgery, I understood that people go through a lot when they are ill. But after the surgery, the child was very happy.