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HiFL: Where is UI in the Scheme of Things?

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Football is a very flexible tool; the fans see it as a game, but to some, it is a very versatile tool; a tool that could destroy and rebuild easily, a tool to make money, a way to get back at an old foe. In 2006, after the match that saw Ivory Coast qualify for the World Cup, Didier Drogba appealed to then president, Lauren Gbagbo, to end the civil unrest. He also begged the combatants to end their struggles. His call was heeded and due to that singular act, backed by the power of football, he was able to bring sanity and peace to his country.

The Higher Institutions Football League could be described as the Holy Grail as regards football competition involving universities in Nigeria. Ever since 2018 when the tournament started, it has continued to gain leverage and attention from football fans. University students are always excited to welcome other teams, there is healthy rivalry which gives rise to banter. HiFL is backed by NUGA and NFF, so it is not a surprise that broadcast, SuperSports, televised the last edition’s final. 

Where is UI? This was the first question that came to mind the moment the draws for the Round of 16 fixtures were out. It seemed as though there was a mistake, but in reality, there was no mistake. The fact stares at the greatest gba gba in the face; UI isn’t participating in the Higher Institutions Football League this year. It feels like a big blow to the average sports-loving UIte. University of Ibadan, the premier university in Nigeria, is not a part of the biggest university football competition in Nigeria. So, we decided to get to the bottom of the matter and we got some reasons or excuses for want of a better word as to why the “first and best ” would be absent. 

Some of the responses were quite contradictory, shaky too. The first excuse for why UI isn’t in the competition is as a result of the paucity of funds, but it sounded quite ridiculous for a school with the kind of population that UI boasts of to be complaining about funds. More so, students paid sports levy, an increased levy at that, this session. Where did the money go to?

We finally got to speak with some members of the team; the most concrete explanation was that the school management was not ready to back the team for any competition whatsoever, and that is as a result of the ban on physical activities in the school. 

Some sources informed us that the team coach made the disclosure that the school wouldn’t be backing the team just a few weeks to the start of the competition, so, some of the team members took it upon themselves and went to some members of the school management to require that the school register for the competition. The result? The University Management turned down the request with the response that the “powers that be” are not in support of any kind of physical activity on campus, despite the fact that it was made clear to them that the team wouldn’t play any match in the school as the zonal qualifiers would be held in Lagos. 

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Due to the pandemic, HiFL management decided to cancel last year’s tournament, but it was stated that the teams that did register last year would not need to register again this year and unfortunately the school management also did not register the team last year. Some members of the team then enlisted the help of the Students’ Union president about two weeks to the close of registration but with him, the response still didn’t change and he also decided to settle with what he was told and didn’t make any more moves to change the status quo.

A lot of the members of the UI football team are downcast, as a footballer, it could take one’s confidence to a total low when you don’t get the opportunity to play in the big competitions. Some of the players have resigned from the team as some of them feel unappreciated. In the course of finding out reasons for UI’s absence in HiFL, some of the players lamented about their welfare. It is sad and quiet frustrating that the welfare of these players isn’t well catered to. 

In OAU, the football team players are paid 2,000 naira for every training they attend and they are given some waivers or special considerations whenever there is a clash between their studies and when they have to represent their school in football games. Some of them get to write make up tests whenever they are away on duty for the school team. An insight into the situation in UI shows a sharp contrast as most of the players complained about hardly getting paid for their service to the school and even when they get paid, they are underpaid. Some of them also disclosed how many times they’ve missed tests while on duty, but nothing was done to help them. 

HiFL 2021
LAUTECH vs. UNILAG: HiFL 2021

A member of the team confirmed to us how he got paid 3,000 naira about 2-3 weeks after a competition, another complained about not getting any financial remuneration before going to participate in a competition. One thing that those in charge of caring for this team don’t know or choose to ignore is that football or sports in general is as much a psychological battle as well as it is physical, a well-nurtured team would always do better than a team that is not nurtured well enough. 

They also fail to take into cognisance that success in football competitions could bring some form of financial aid to the institution, brands would always fall over themselves to get a successful team to be the face of their brands. In Spain, football creates about 185, 000 jobs yearly, in England the Premier League alone creates over 50,000 jobs. In 2019, football contributed about 1.5% of the total GDP of the UK. With this knowledge, any smart individual would know that football is a big business and it ought to be invested in as it would be of immense benefit. As a matter of fact, the OAU team have shirt sponsors as a result of the good results they post in their matches 

 The SU president stated that the school is doing its best to ensure a good standard of sports facilities in the school, but if the sportsmen and women aren’t motivated, those facilities would be a waste as no one would readily want to waste his or her time on something that doesn’t benefit them.

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