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 The UEFA trophy tour brought the world to Uyo and gave Uyo to the world, writes Paul Bassey

Sometimes, when great things happen, seldom does it come with a touch of momentum, breaking up and opening new frontiers for engagement, force fresh perspectives into view, or throw-up some inspiring and significantly illuminating lights.

This rings true of the recent hosting of the UEFA Champions trophy in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital some few weeks ago. But in very certain terms, with the historic event, Uyo as a city came into a prime and different phase of global spotlight.

Remarkably, with the UEFA trophy hosted in the Akwa Ibom capital, Heineken, official sponsors of the event, spoke significantly in a vividly bold language. By affixing its brand stamp, Uyo became its imprimatur for a red star that has risen on the global firmament as future hub of the soccer world.

Pointedly too, Heineken with the event elected to tell the corporate world and international event organizers never to look any further. Uyo meets all the criteria and standards for events of any magnitude – the serenity of the city, its ambience of peace and security, world class infrastructure comprising good road networks, a five star hotel among several other three/four star category hospitality facilities, a standard airport- the Victor Attah International Airport and of course, the Godswill Akpabio stadium; the globally rated Nest of Champions.

With all of these attractions, the future looks exceedingly bright for the city as the rave and game centre of the moment.

 For instance, the problem facing many cities struggling across the world to break into global purview in football and other sport tourism is no longer associated with Uyo. The Udom Emmanuel administration, has since its inception attracted and benefited more than a fair share of international meets in the state capital. These have gone to boost the state’s popularity rating across the global football community, and its most iconic meet having been the Athletico Madrid game hosted some few months ago. To be numbered among the global cities to have hosted the historic UEFA trophy is another ball game altogether; as very few cities are remarkably so lucky.

While attracting internationally adjudged leading brand (Heineken) to the city, NBL literally shut down operations on that day as Who’s who in her brewing business was drawn to be part of the many celebrated faces to adorn and confirm Uyo as the cozy home of football in Nigeria.

Specifically MD/CEO Jordi Bornut Bel, Marketing Director, Emmanuel Oriakhi, Corporate Affairs Director, Mrs. Sade Morgan, Finance Director Rob Kleinjan, Porfolio Manager (National Premium), Serah Agha, Public Affairs Manager (South) Uzodinma Odenigbo, Senior Brand Manager (Heineken) Mfon Bassey among several others, it was a fresh experience worth repeating and reliving.

Nigerian Breweries MD/CEO, Mr. Jordi Borrut Bel, when asked, “why Akwa Ibom?” had some inspiring words to say: “For us, Uyo, Akwa Ibom was a given. Apart from Lagos as our operational headquarters, Uyo fitted the bill of a serene town, peaceful with abundant world class sports infrastructure that fitted our bill as a destination most appropriate to stage our “unmissable match.” We took a survey of some other states [and] cities, yet Uyo, Akwa Ibom topped them all.” Incredible commendation! Isn’t it?

The NBL MD/CEO may not have been mistaken speaking from a like-minded perspective. Clinging to the big picture, one can perceive three things as having come with the hosting of the UEFA trophy – opening up Uyo participation in the global sporting space, boosting the state tourism potential; and capturing the political and development strides of the state on the wider scale of evaluating its investment potential. All of these presented the state in a far broader and optimally different light.

Itemizing the potential loaded in these key areas one by one, it is essential to appreciate the fact that presently, only five African countries have benefited the opportunity of hosting the UEFA Trophy. With Uyo having the rare opportunity to participate in such an exclusive rite, it had presented the state an opportunity to showcase her excellent infrastructure and also the reason to be considered a prime destination of choice for sports in every material sense.

Yes, Jordi Barrut Bel, delighted to be in Uyo, was right. And so were his cheerful and commending words for the city and what its ambience represented. It organically spoke of the peace and security enjoyed in the state against a vast sea of turmoil and insensate turbulence rumbling across the country.

Integrally it then explains why the planners decided to bring the trophy’s hosting to Uyo amidst other places of choice. And with that brief stroke, it is gone to associate the state and the city with the brilliant history of the famous championship; and also a rare opportunity to have been so offered by the leading corporate citizen in the brewing industry.

Beamed live on DSTV across the globe, Uyo came on focus; and thus became inducted into the global sporting space; while also presenting Akwa Ibom sport and cultural tourism potential to the whole world in a two-prong but single stride.

Heineken jumped on the major policy plank of the Udom Administration. The policy, reckoned to have garnered huge successes in investment profile to the state has interestingly reinvented the Akwa Ibom economic growth trajectory and currently informs on the need that may have reasonably inspired Governor Emmanuel to exploit the UEFA trophy tour for greater social and economic benefits to the state.

Gov. Emmanuel, who during the courtesy visit paid by the Heineken team to his office, described himself as “a professional in politics,” was wittingly soliciting and exploring the need for the leading brewing concern to take advantage of the vast opportunities and handsome potential offered by the state to consider partnering some substantial industrial investments.

These are the areas of concern which vision for a synergy can be actually impacted. For instance, if NBL decides to invest in siting a sports hostel or civic hall in the state like the Shell Muson Centre in Lagos, this will not only be a corporate statement seeking to enhance cultural relations among the diverse ethnic/social classes populating Uyo, but again make Heineken as a distinct key player in the industrial landscape of the nation to directly invest in Akwa Ibom youths, who frequently and in their thousands, are weekly “addicted” to the European Champions leagued sponsored by Heineken.

In a specific light, the Heineken 2018/2019 UEFA champions league tour was a plus for the Governor Udom Emmanuel administration. It had made Uyo capital to be part of a history. The “unmissable match” itself that saw global football greats – Carles Buyol and Nigeria’s Jay Jay Okocha – pitched against each other- sparkled the city with the brilliance of “the most creative attacking mid fielder of all times as he lurched against ‘one of the world’s most feared defenders ever.’

Again, history was made all over again and nostalgia re-lived on the pitch. Akwa Ibom football fans turned out in great numbers to watch Carlse Buyol, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Mutiu Adepoju, Daniel Amokachi, Augustine Eguavoen, Uche Okechukwu, and other Ex-Super Eagles legends slug it out in style.

Besides the “Unmissable Match” presenting and confirming Akwa Ibom as a sports loving state that is ‘crazy about football, it also provided a good number of Akwa Ibom players the rare opportunity of basking in global spotlight – 20 of them from Akwa United Football Club.

The UEFA trophy tour was a very invaluable experience. It brought the world to Uyo and also gave Uyo to the world especially among lovers of football. It passed as an opportunity of showcasing the state and the city as possessing a culture and passion for the beautiful game among other sports. And indeed, it had so much raised the global perception of the city.

But to the senior brand manager of Star, Mr. Oludare Olateju, who served his NYSC programme in Uyo more than 16 years ago, the experience was simply amazing and breath-taking. Akwa Ibom, phenomenally has undergone great changes between those years, given the spiraling level of development the state has witnessed under a determined and focused leader like Gov. Udom Emmanuel.

  Bassey is SSA to Governor Udom Emmanuel on Sports Development

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