“football is a major tool of national unity”- Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari has declared his administration’s commitment to use football as a tool for the development of the girl-child, inspiring young people to have rewarding careers in the game.

He also said his government had since the last four years adopted sports as a national asset.

Speaking on Thursday at the State House, Abuja while receiving in audience, the FIFA delegation led by its President, Gianni Infantino, and the President of Confederation of African Football (CAF), Patrice Motsepe, the President called on the top echelon of the world football governing body to see Nigeria as one of its greatest assets, when it comes to the development of football.

On women’s football, President Buhari expressed delight that Nigeria has produced excellent role models to inspire the next generation of stars to take up the sport.

His words: “Our National women’s football team, the Super Falcons are a force to reckon with, both on the continent and internationally. Some of our women footballers such as Asisat Oshoala, who only recently became the first African to win the women’s European Champions League with her club Barcelona.

“Rasheedat Ajibade, Rita Chikwelu, Onome Ebi, who is the only African to have played in five FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals, Desire Oparanozie and before them Perpetual Nkwocha, Mercy Akide-Udoh, Nkiru Okosieme and Ann Chiejiene, are globally recognised stars.”

Buhari, therefore, urged the FIFA leadership to consider Nigeria top on its plan for support and investment.

He also told the visiting FIFA boss, who was in the country for the six-nation Aisha Buhari Invitational Football Tournament, that since 2017 his administration had adopted football as a national asset.

The President explained that sport was being accorded the highest level of attention possible by the government to enable rapid development of abundant talents in the country.

“I have also approved the unveiling of a committee to draw up a 10-year football development master plan for the country. I expect that the recommendations of this committee will accelerate the development of football. It is my hope that it will further improve the fortunes of the game internationally,” he said.

On the Aisha Buhari Cup (ABC), with the theme “Playing for Good”, which was on-going in Lagos, President Buhari said the tournament could not have come at a better time.

According to him, “This Women’s football competition is a novel idea here and I am sure it will be exciting in its execution for our women folk and lovers of football. It is also a confirmation of what we already know about our women.”

The President, therefore, thanked FIFA for making ABC, a ranking tournament, adding that he looked forward to more countries joining to participate in future.

Buhari, who described football as one of the greatest sources of unity in the country as well as in many parts of the world, said: “Our hearts beat as one anytime our teams are playing a football match. Our youth are always positively engaged, when our national football teams are on assignment. Without any doubts here, football is a major tool of national unity”.

He commended the enormous work done by the organisation in the development of football, using it as a tool for positive social change and to drive global unity.

The president pledged support for the latest FIFA initiative, the FIFA Connect programme, which aimed to drive football development at the grassroots using technology and assured it of Nigeria’s active participation in the programme.

Emphasising Nigeria’s huge pedigree in global and continental football, the President said the country had achieved successes in many international and continental competitions while maintaining close, cordial and mutually beneficial relationship with FIFA.

“Nigeria is one of the few nations of the world that has participated in all FIFA competitions, at all the different levels for both men and women. These have opened doors of opportunities for a lot of our young boys and girls, men and women to have rewarding careers in the game,” he said.

Earlier, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, said Nigeria, as the leading black nation in the world, was central to all that FIFA was seeking to achieve in its football development plan.

“We love football and we follow the game passionately,” he said.

Infantino, while speaking, renewed FIFA’s commitment to support the development of football in Nigeria, pledging to strengthen its partnership with the Nigeria Football Federation.

He said, “Nigeria is a big football playing country. We need Nigeria to lead the football movement in the world, together with Africa as a continent.”

He thanked President Buhari for supporting the development of the game and appealed to him to help FIFA amplify the message of football as a uniting force.

“When football is played, there are no divisions in a nation or continent. Football brings people together and to do that, we need important countries like Nigeria,” he said.

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