The Football Awards Can Be Better

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Saturday letter1

Different industries have a way of celebrating their own or those that have contributed to that particular trade. And so came April Fool’s Day, 2019, that the Nigerian Football Federation under the title sponsorship of one of its partners, staged the Aiteo NFF Awards 2018 at the prestigious Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos. Awards such as this are usually nights of glitz and glamour for football which the Aiteo NFF Awards were, but truly it could have been better.

To begin with, not promoting the event weeks or months ahead to create viral awareness was a big minus to the ceremony. Yes, everybody will not be in the venue as occasions like this are usually by invitation and for industry biased guests. However, a media hype would have brought the event to the consciousness of the public. What we were served instead was a sudden live programme on our screens.

Then the dating of the awards was faulty. What makes awards thick is the presence of all the nominees for each category. What happened at this year’s awards was that a lot of the nominees were absent resulting to winners making recorded remarks. This could have been avoided had the awards held a week earlier, during the international window when there was a full complement of the Super Eagles when they played two matches in Asaba. Holding the awards after they had all returned for the homestretch of the European season dimmed the lights on the event.

However you slice it, for a nation of our size, resources and history of hosting similar and bigger shows in pageantry, music, movies, entertainment, business and so on, had no excuse starting the event behind schedule. Keeping the guests and viewers waiting for over two hours is a shame. Giving them a co-host that speaks their language doesn’t soothe the sore.

The sights and sounds of the show were defective. For the lighting, its excessiveness made it look more like a night club than a corporate setting while the sound system was epileptic. It was so irritating that we couldn’t hear a word of what Rashidi Yekini’s daughter, Omoyemi, said on behalf of her late father despite having to repeat herself.

Stage management could have been better as there were modicum of disarray of where to ascend or descend the podium from, whether the presenters of the awards were to watch the big screen or just announce the nominees and the winner, and other petty stuffs.

All wasn’t bad though. As a matter of fact, if we ignore Sunday Oliseh’s Ted Talk-long response, the highlight of the occasion was the well-deserved recognition of the set of 1994 Super Eagles. It was interesting to see those guys come together again after the consummation of their heroics in the World Cup 25 years ago. That squad not only redefined the national team but also placed Nigeria on the football map. Besides those that are dead and gone, it is impracticable to have all of them in attendance under the same roof ever again. However, the rumour that some of them did not receive invites for the event is not good enough.

Now, awards worldwide come with their controversies. There will always be debates of recipients that are undeserving and the deserving that are overlooked. So getting into whether any of the awardees earns it or not will be unending. Nevertheless, may I react to the undue razzmatazz attached to the Order of Merit Award given worthily to FIFA Secretary General, Fatma Samoura. Such glitziness is usually reserved for the winner of the blue ribbon award which is the Footballer of the Year. But Amaju Pinnick thought otherwise.

Having the most powerful woman in world sports on our shores is no mean feat and so she deserves the honour; however, the masked tempo and tenor of the organizers exposed the unhealthy bootlicking custom of Nigerians. A culture where guests of honour, elite alumni, administrators or political office holders are given the limelight and photo-ops more than the practitioners, athletes or pupils the events are meant for. It was as if the night was centred around Madam Secretary General. Even when Kaffy and her dance crew performed, they paid tribute to Samoura in the name of eulogizing womanhood. There was no reference to the Falcons that sweat it out on the field of play.

Talking about performances and female footballers, when D’Banj came up for his own act, the backdrop multimedia beamed only highlights of the national team’s USA ’94 heroics and Dream Team’s Atlanta ’96 gallantries. Here, not only a patriarchal optic is being presented of Nigerian football but it also sells a misconception that Nigerian football is only about the Super Eagles. Nigerian football is not only about the golden nineties, Nigerian football is about all the age grade teams, women football, club sides, grassroots and a lot more and events like this was an opportunity to showcase them even in passing.

An award night must not be bilingual to reach foreigners. It is the entertainment appeal that does.

It is also at occasions like this that progress report is rendered and future plans revealed and an avenue to address the ills of the game. If it were Europe, racism would be it but for us, it is violence in our league matches.

Good thing is that improvements can always be made. Another positive is that following a back to back staging of the awards, it should be an annual event which would help its brand. What is most important is that the awards should have a fixed time in the football calendar that fans, practitioners and partners would look forward to.

Finally, I want to suggest that an award for the home-based player of the Year be included in future ceremonies. This would encourage the players in the domestic league.

 

Ayodele Okunfolami, Festac, Lagos