He isÂ the principal partner of Lekki-based corporate law firm Kanyi, Karibi-Whyte and Hastrup, as well as chairman of the committee of law office management of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Anire Kanyi has his hands full. He however is on a mission to fly the Nigerian flag on the biggest tennis stages in the world. A sports enthusiast, Kanyi is the chairman of the Tennis Management Company Limited, that is committed to providing an nnual platform to compete regularly for high stakes which would lead to a dramatic rise in interest and investment in the sport such that overtime Nigerians can see their finest made-in-Nigeria talents competing regularly at the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Please tell us about your project
My partners and I want to organise four major tennis tournaments in Nigeria every year. These would be the Abuja Open, the Lagos Open, and two other opens â€“ one south, one north â€“ that will be decided through bids. Our maiden tournament will be the Abuja Open in May 2018, while the Lagos Open would follow in November. We should have our first full calendar from 2019 or 2020.
Why are you involved in this project?
I am a huge fan of tennis so this comes naturally to me. I also share the vision with my partners that it is up to us to shape the future for our young. Next time you drive out, take a look at the number of young people just milling around; boys and girls who have little or nothing to do but simply hanging around their neighbourhoods and inevitably getting into some trouble or the other. That is one reason I am passionate about this. We need to engage these youth; to keep them busy in the right way, and there isnâ€™t a better way than sports. I also would like to see Nigerians playing in the big global tournaments and earning big rewards; that would be a thing of immense national pride. Those donâ€™t have two heads or four feet, but then we must know that these achievements never come by happenstance. As a society we have to create the platforms, not just in tennis and sports, for our best talents to excel, and thatâ€™s what we want to do with the majors.
You know we are a â€˜football nation, so how do you intend to cut through this?
I am a huge football fan myself, but tennis is also a popular sport with Nigerians. The Roger Federer-Rafa Nadal-Novak Djokovic-Andy Murray era of dominance has helped ensure this. We also have some history in the sport and I am sure youâ€™ll remember the days of Ogbe Hard Court and the like. We also had stars like Nduka Odizor and David Imonitie who captivated us. So yes, tennis has good potential, and given the package we have, we should at least be able to make it football, tennis and others (laughs).
What do you want to bring to the table that is different?
The idea of the four opens in itself is new. That would be steady and regular competition for our boys and girls around which they can have their own growth plans. However Nigerians are about to see what sports, both as a big business and as entertainment, truly means. We want to create the first generation of authentic local sports champions; the best of whom may probably earn up to N100m in a given year, including earnings and endorsements. Champions who are popular with everyone, are seen as societyâ€™s best, live well and are considered excellent role models for our exploding young population.
That would require some heavy sponsorship
Well we have some excellent marketing minds in our team, including the well-liked Lolu Akinwunmi, who has a towering reputation in the advertising industry. We also have access to several captains of industry as well; hopefully there are those who will see the future with us. Beyond sponsorship however, we have other interesting revenue sources, actually the sports business is driven by TV rights. There are a million TV networks out there these days and everyone is looking for rich content. That is what we are aiming for: content that can appeal to Nigerians and Africans around the world. There are many others as well, but let me leave it at just the regular ones for now.
Are your tournaments going to be for Nigerian players only?
At least for the first five years. Whatâ€™s the point in having international meets when our boys are clearly some way behind? We want a platform that gives them the financial support and focus they need to arrive on the world stage. Five years would give our best some time to catch up. Even then, our hopes of making a real impression on the world stage would probably still rest on the players who are six years to eight years today. That is why we would plough back a lot of our profits into society in a massive search for our big hopes: the next Odizors and Imonite, Momohs etc. Our plan is to have five Nigerians in the ATP-WTA top 100Â in 20 years. So, yes, for the first five years the tournaments will be local, and after that we have plans to open up a couple; first to African players, and then the world.
Is the Nigerian Tennis Federation with your company on this?
They are aware of what we are doing, because from the beginning, we have communicated with them; first with former President, Mr. Sani Ndanusa who was, and remains, very supportive. We have also met and are in discussions with the new President Dayo Akindoju. He appears a very clearheaded and composed man who is passionate about the sport and also the need for new beginnings. We seem to have common goals. We are still talking. Making tennis a top sport in Nigeria would require a collaborative effort between, not just us, but the sports fraternity. It is our hope and belief that what we are doing would redefined the role of local sports in all our lives.