Emmanuel Ibru: A Bold Foray into ‘Deaf Football’


His passion for football is unprecedented, having been a football administrator for over 20 years. He was a former member of the Nigeria Football Association, as the country’s football body was then known and also the proprietor of Lagos-based Pro-League side, AS Racine. Recently, the Deaf Eagles won the West Africa Deaf Football Union, WADFU, Tournament in Bamako, Mali, but the team might not have achieved the without Emmanuel Ibru, Kunle Adewale writes 

Emmanuel Ibru has always been involved in football. He follows the game and it is a big part of his recreational activities. Speaking on how he became associated with deaf football, he said, “The Nigeria Deaf Football Association was at one time looking for somebody to give them some support, so I was approached and I gave it a consideration. Then, they were about to travel to Lome, Togo, for the West African Deaf Football Union Championship and I went to Lome to watch them and was quite impressed with what I saw there, both in terms of quality and the dedication of the players. It was after this that I decided to accept their offer as the grand patron of the association. I have since been working with them, trying to help in one way or the other to ensure they achieve their goals and objectives.”

Recently, the deaf football team went for the WADFU Championship and emerged winners. They would have missed the tournament due to financial constraint but for Ibru who came to their rescue. On how to forestall future occurrences, Ibru said, “The ministry was aware of that but we all know the present situation in Nigeria regarding paucity of funds. At that point in time, the ministry was also confronted with its own problems. But the fact of the matter is that the ministry was approached, various requests were sent, but unfortunately there was no positive response.

“I would however want a situation whereby, on a yearly basis, a kind of a budget is made for special needs sports. The Nigeria Deaf Football Association and the Nigeria Football Federation should also have some kind of allowance made for them within the budget to prosecute their own programmes.”

When asked what could be done to propagate and popularise deaf football in the country, he said, “Again, it comes down to the question of finance. Some states have deaf football league and this depends on individuals within the states. The ideal thing would be to have a nationwide league for the hearing impaired and help them play tournaments on a regular basis. Maybe it may be difficult at the early stages to run a league but there could be an arrangement where sponsors would come in and have a Nationwide Deaf Challenge Cup where games could be played on a knockout basis within various states and at the end they converge on a particular place to play for a cup and some awareness is given for such a competition. I think that would go a long way in propagating deaf football, but again, the major problem is financing.

“Even the Nigeria National League, which is the pro-league body, is having problems in trying to attract sponsorship from the corporate sector. I think the same problem that affects football in general in the country also affects deaf football but  to a greater extent.”

In spite of his pet club, AS Racine yet to gain promotion to the elite division, the proprietor says he is very satisfied with the achievement of the club so far.

“We are a grassroots football club that concentrates on promoting players from the grassroots, giving them an opportunity to play in an organised setting and teaching the players about professionalism at an early age -the sort of conduct required to be a professional footballer. We give them a launching pad for bigger and better things in their football career.

 “I’m quite happy with the club in terms of what we have been able to achieve. Quite a few players have passed through AS Racine and had gone to have quite a decent professional career; notable among them are Osaze Odemwingwe, Brown Ideye, late Bayo Adefemi and Onyekachi Okonkwo. We have recorded quite a little bit of success in nurturing players that had gone on not only to have decent professional career but had also gone to represent the country at various age groups and at the senior national level.

“The main ambition of the club this year is to consolidate our position in the pro-league, ensure we remain there for next year then build on that. Maybe in two, three or four years’ time we will play in the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL. We are however contented with the fact that players have leveraged on AS Racine to move up in their professional career because that is what we stand for,” Ibru added.

When the draws for the 2018 World Cup qualifier was made and Nigeria was pitched with Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia, many football lovers in the country had their doubts on Eagles picking the group’s sole ticket to the Mundial, Ibru was inclusive.

“It’s a pleasant surprise to see the Super Eagles topping the group with six points after two matches and we can take three points against Cameroon in our next home game. I think we are almost home and dry because a couple more draws will see us through. But it is still not all over because in football, anything can happen, but then we are in the driver’s seat,” the AS Racine proprietor said.

So far, Ibru is satisfied with the manner with which Gernot Rohr is going about his job with the national.

“There has been very little rancour as far as financial issues are concerned. The NFF has had their financial problems but the coach has kept silent about whether he has any problem or not. He is just concentrating on doing his job. For now, he is still doing a little bit of experimenting though. What he is trying to do is build a new squad of young vibrant players. By the time we will be playing Cameroon in August in the World Cup qualifier he would have had a pretty good idea of his best 20 players,” he noted.

The AS Racine proprietor is also of the opinion that NFF President, Amaju Pinnick’s appointment into the CAF executive would be very beneficial to Nigerian football.

“He is part of the top decision making body for football in Africa, which means when decisions are being made he’s going to be there and not at the peripheral level and from that point of view he would be able to protect the nation’s interest. But I would like to think he is in CAF because of Nigeria and the nation’s interest,” the Grand Patron of the Nigeria Deaf Football Association noted.

Comparing the present NFF to the one he served under, Ibru says there is a big difference between the two. “When I was a member of the NFA under Ibrahim Galadima, the various committees that were set up were very vibrant and were all functioning. They were made up of members who were very interested in the game. Meetings were held on a very regular basis and from there a lot of information were collected which were made available to the board for deliberations and it helped a lot in decision making and in trying to grow the game in the country. For the inner workings of this present NFF I am not a party to it, so I would not know, but I do know that probably the major committee that is functioning now is the technical committee, headed by Chris Green. At one point, a marketing committee was set up and it had been rather moribund and I am not sure if it still exists. That’s about the major difference have noticed.

“Nigerian football politics have always been a very messy terrain to deal with but over the last few years, we have witnessed all sort of law suit instigated by one body or the other, it wasn’t as bad during my time as it has been in the last few years. There was never any threat during my time in the NFA from FIFA apart from question around Decree 101, but it’s no longer in use. From that point of view, the threat to Nigeria has not been government interference as it usually was in those days but now it has been rancour within the football committee itself.”

Meanwhile, by virtue of the Deaf Eagles’ victory in Mali, the team has automatically booked a place to the Deaflympics slated for Turkey in June. Ibru is apprehensive that the team may be denied the trip due to financing issues.

 “We went to Bamako to play in the WADFU Tournament without any support from the government or NFF despite several appeals to the various bodies. We also wrote letters to some corporate organisations but without any positive response. However, for us the most important thing was to get to the tournament, participate and do well.

“There had been seven competitions so far since the inception of WADFU, and Nigeria could not make it to one of them because of paucity of fund but for the other six we’ve been to, we’ve won four and were runners-up twice. If you talk about consistency then kudos must go to Nigeria.

“We know that the ministry is aware of the Deaflympics. The Nigeria Deaf Sports Federation plans in conjunction with the ministry to send teams in other sports to the game, specifically table-tennis and athletics. From the NFF point of view, because of lack of funds the story is that we cannot go because it’s a team event and have to more or less pay for the entire contingent, which is about 20 to 25 people and there is only one medal at stake for that and the federation feels it’s not worth it. So it’s negative news on the possibility of Nigerian deaf team going to the Deaflympics in Turkey.”

Ibru is therefore appealing to the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung to give the boys an opportunity to attend Deaflympics.