By Umelo Umezinwa;
The exit of Chief MKO Abiola knocked the steam off the momentum of private support for sports in Nigeria. Widely regarded by the sobriquet “pillar of sports in Africa “, Chief Abiola was a major factor in the fortunes of many sports federations across the continent.
But many years after his demise, a new pillar to hold the roof over the sports arena may have emerged. The gaping hole left by Abiola’s exit has been filled by another billionaire drawn to the magic of sports as a medium for self actualization for millions of youth. When Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah emerged on the Nigerian sporting arena with his peculiar brand of philanthropy, many critics dismissed his overtures as a fleeting publicity stunt with low shelf life. But over time, his resolve has sparked a wave of phenomenal achievements with far reaching implications as a source of livelihood and inspiration for an emerging generation of Nigerian youths.
As a young man, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah played football at amateur level and that explains his passion for the game. However, he soon brought his well-known zest and drive for success into the sport with high level commitment as sponsor and owner of one of the most viable private football clubs in Nigeria – FC Ifeanyi Ubah Football Club which he founded in 2015 following the acquisition of Gabros International Football club.
FC Ifeanyi Ubah Football Club operates from the 3000 capacity FC Ifeanyi Ubah Stadium at Nnewi/Ozubulu axis in Anambra State; arguably the most modern private football stadium in Nigeria. The club soon justified Ifeanyi Ubah’s massive sponsorship by winning the Federation Cup at Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos on 6th November 2016, thus making it the first club from new Anambra State to win a national trophy.
Of course the meteoric rise of FC Ifeanyi Ubah to football prominence in Nigeria was no fluke to keen observers, having won the Anambra State challenge Cup in 2016 and the Nigeria National League in 2014. For any keen observer to appreciate the buzz around the man-Ifeanyi Ubah and his team, you have to add to the team’s trophy cabinet, the proprietor’s winning mentality which undoubtedly permeated the ranks at the club grounds.
Interestingly, Dr Ifeanyi Ubah has shown in actions and deeds that he never rests on his oars. Determine to enlarge the vista for Nigerian football at the global stage, Ifeanyi Ubah after deft negotiations, consummated a partnership deal with West Ham United otherwise known as Hammers of England and FC Ifeanyi Ubah, aka Anambra Warriors of Nigeria on October 5-6 2017. Among other benefits from scouting, merchandising, player and coach exchanges, playing friendly matches; the deal meant to chart way forward for Nigerian football include technical discussions held between the club and Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) on how to develop young talents.
Again in a bid to improve the interest of the fan base and of the Nigeria Football league, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah gave the league a major boost with the signing of some Brazilians and other nationals to play in his team during the 2015/2016 season. That audacious move broke the myth about the transfer of foreign players into our local league, a phenomenon last witnessed in the eighties and it increased fans interest and attendance to matches involving FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
It is on record though that he has been fined for letting his temperament get the better of him when he allegedly slapped a player from an opposing team. As often seen in such tense moments in the beautiful game, frayed nerves tend to give way to anger and many players and leaders of the game have been caught in the mix. Thus Ifeanyi Ubah’s was no exception but it is ennobling to observe that where passion and exuberance once featured, age and street smart wisdom now hold sway. No wonder the superb ideas coming from his stable and the giant strides he makes daily promoting the game.
A man who abhors dull moments, Chairman of Anambra State Football Association, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah decided to spread the World Cup excitement locally with recent sponsorship of fifty youths to Russia 2018 World Cup, an all-expenses paid trip and sporting adventure that broadened their perspective on football and general world view. That surprise package left many watchers in awe of the man, Ifeanyi Ubah. Unfortunately, some traducers sought to diminish the import of his amazing philanthropy in a desperate attempt to impute selfish political motive to such a selfless feat. In fact one laughable rumour borne out of ignorance alleged that he ‘hijacked Anambra slots to the World cup,’ but it eventually turned out baseless.
Indeed, the Russia 2018 World Cup trip was a follow-up to the 2016 sponsorship of over seventy persons to one-week London trip as part his football development programme. The beneficiaries were able to watch West Ham United versus Arsenal Match and toured the Olympic Stadium as well as visited some tourist sites. Prodded to explain his motive for the sponsorships, Dr. Ubah stated: “my vision in life is anchored on human capital development. After all, one can’t talk about developing a society without putting the people at the front burner of such development.”
On the London trip were sports administrators, football facility managers, journalists, engineers, crowd managers, and members of FC Ifeanyi Uba Supporter’s club. Obviously an attempt at giving various officials involved in football management at all levels a first-hand experience of how it is done in the Premiership with a view to replicating same in Nigeria over time.
Although mostly associated with football, it is known that Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah’s benevolence cuts across different sporting activities which have also enjoyed his goodwill sponsorship. Not to be outdone in any way, Ifeanyi Ubah is rumoured to be getting ready to roll-out another youth based football empowerment initiative to be unveiled soon. It is understood that it would keep many of the teaming youths engaged.
The hope therefore is that when the programme takes off, it would have taken many out of the labour market.
All told, F.C Ifeanyi Uba Football Club has come to stay and the willingness and desire of Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah to lead from the frontlines in sports and every venture he embarks-on is a rare quality in our communities these days. It is comforting that the man has sustained many of his sporting ventures in spite of the odds in our national sports scene. Such is his determination to refocus, reposition and rebrand football in Nigeria, a feat that can only come from a ‘pillar of sports’.