FEATURE ARTICLE

Chidi OguamanamTuesday, August 26, 2014
oguamanam.chidi@gmail.com
Ottawa, Canada

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FOR THE FALCONETS: THIS VICTORY IS PERSONAL

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e pressed his head to my bosom. I looked down. I observed some tears rolling down his little cheek as we sat on the sofa watching Nigeria engage Germany in a game of skills and wits. Then he said (as if I did not notice), "Daddy, Germany has scored". And I replied, "son, it is ok; there is still some time. It is not over yet". With a pack of Nigerian and Canadian friends gathered and routing for the Falconets, we kept hope alive. Eventually, after an eventful 120 minutes, the Germans took the gold, and left Nigerians with the silver. Some silvers are more golden. As far as I can say, the Nigerian women team that showcased exceptional talent and indomitable resilience in the just concluded 2014 FIFA U20 Women World Cup tournament in Canada was the best side throughout and in each game. Many footballers and fans know that victory is not an exclusive entitlement of the better side. It is a combination of many other factors beyond the latter's control. For the game against the Germans, I would refrain from further remark on the quality of officiating and not play a sore loser. The Nigerian young women and their coaching crew are anything but losers. They care champions in heart, skill and conduct. When juxtaposed with the performance of the Super Eagles in the June 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Falconets were simply exemplary, unassuming, courageous and adventurous. And it paid off, big time, each time, with convincing victories.

I am compelled to seize the moment to reflect on the ramifications of the victory of the Falconets. Here in Canada; their presence has been a powerful symbol of positive press and social mobilization among Nigerians in diaspora, their Canadian spouses, friends and their children; and indeed the soccer-loving world. No amount of government sponsored self-serving image laundering could accomplish what the Falconets did for Nigeria within so short a time, and with astounding credibility. From Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta and Quebec, despite the comparative poor traction that women soccer currently garners, diaspora Nigerians and Africans rallied around the Falconets as they came close to the domains. Nigerians remained loudest voices in support of their team, even in sparsely occupied stadia across Canada. As the tournament progressed and the Falconets came into solid reckoning, there was little effort required for mobilization and support.

Canada is hockey nation, not a soccer nation. But it has a strong profile in women soccer. When the Canadian side was edged out by Germany, it was then not a tough call where a unified loyalty should lie for Nigerian-Canadian families, who may have been split temporarily. The Falconets enjoyed undivided goodwill for the most part when Canada dropped out of contention. But it is presumptuous to claim that soccer has no traction in Canada. For both male and female soccer, a lot is going on in Canada. A careful observation through my personal network reveals that Canadian youths of Nigerian ancestry have a powerful presence in the soccer revolution that is gradually sweeping across the nook and cranny of the exceptionally vast country of Canada. So, the month-long presence and extraordinary showing of the Falconets in Canada was a powerful symbol of inspiration to a section of Nigerian youths from Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere. In a way, the Falconets affirmed Nigerians' undeniable credentials at home and in the diaspora as Africa's soccer powerhouse.

The victory of the Falconets could not have come at a better time. Before that victory, many Nigerians in Canada struggled to convince their curious and innocent interrogators that the experience of the nearly 300 abducted Chibok Girls was not the norm. As much as the abduction was symptomatic of deviant and perverted religious extremism, most unknowing Canadians needed better evidence of how Nigeria treats its young female population. Thanks to the Falconets. This victory goes to remind us about the plight of the Chibok Girls. It should help to re-fuel the Bringbackourgirls campaigns that seem to have lost steam. Any of the Chibok Girls could well have been in the line for the glorious expedition in victory and courage that the Falconets displayed in Canada for the whole world as worthy bearers of Nigerian banner; not as Boko Haram sex slaves.

While the tournament was going on, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa (including Nigeria) attempted to becloud the gallant strides of the Falconets. Nigeria was again an ugly focus of unpleasant news. Canadian media were awash with reportage of quarantined suspected Ebola infected Nigerian returnees to Canada and elsewhere in United States and Europe. It is telling to observe how the media would insist upon calling folks out as Nigerians when the news is negative while turning a blind eye to the "victims"' other citizenships which are perhaps most appropriate in the given circumstance. Despite the pervasive trend in what I call immigration racism of the Ebola outbreak, the Falconets kept a positive media spotlight on Nigeria, which climaxed on Sunday August 24, 2014, when they took the Golden Silver. It was a delight to be a witness to their extraordinary character and courage as a team, including the coaching crew. Their victory reflects the enormous possibilities that lie within Nigeria national horizon despite our pathological inclination to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as a sage once observed.

On a more personal note, my little one overcame his tears and smiled along when he saw Nigerian, French and German women soccer players being called out for individual awards. I told him that they were all winners and that's part of the reason we call soccer the beautiful game. Then he asked me, "Who's that man in a hat and suit with a long scarf?" I replied: "His name is Chief Ojo Maduekwe. He is Nigeria's High Commissioner to Canada". It was a positive optics, even though our President was in Germany when the Falconets took the Golden Silver in a stiff contest against the Germans. I wondered what he was doing that hour; how he felt.

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