By Ikeddy Isiguzo
WHAT has driving in common with great football players? The English Premiership discovered the relationship and has been growing grey hairs over it. It has finally decided to do something about it.
For those who pretend interest in promoting our football as a brand, there are lessons for us in what the Premiership is doing with something that here we would have thought was nothing.
Anyone who knows anything knows the extent that the Premiership goes to protect its game. It is a global brand that millions, possibly billions, of people have become associated with through the power of television and the vision of those who have managed to create something virtually out of nothing.
The Premiership is in mortal danger of being damaged by the actions of the very ones that bring it attention daily. Every great player in the league is worshipped, millions of Nigerians are animated once a discussion tilts towards the wonders that are delivered weekly in England.
Many Nigerians forget their poor stations in life. They are able without much knowledge of what goes on even in their own country to discuss the affairs of the English (at least the Premiership) with a penetrating perception that one cannot miss. You can hardly get in a decent word into a discussion these days without anyone asking you the team you support in the Premiership.
Sometimes this is a dangerous enquiry. If you do not support any team, the thinking could be that something is definitely wrong with you. Name the wrong team as your favourite and you could make a mistake with far-reaching consequences.
On a recent visit to Warri I discovered a friend has the logo of his Premiership team cast on solid iron on the gate to his home. When the team wins people assemble to celebrate with him. If they are down the table, people needle him to no end. I have kept wondering if he is so sold out to the team that he has never considered a day could come when he would change his mind. I dare not ask him, as merely asking would be regarded as an unfrioendloy action!
Some neighbourhoods are divided across teams. Jobless youth find occupation in fighting themselves to impress on others the supremacy of their teams. Trucks, taxis, buses appear these days papered with appropriate colours to advertise support for particular teams.
Again, I wonder whether those messages are the convictions of the driver, conductor or the owner of the vehicle.
While sponsors are falling over themselves to get a slice of the Premiership brand, the Premiership battles with maintaining befitting image for itself so that the cash never ceases to flow.
This affinity for the protection of the image of the Premiership is pursued to an extent that would bother those who think they are administering Nigerian football which has an indiscernible image.
Great players that make the Premiership an unforgettable brand are those who are about destroying it. There is hardly a day that one of them is not in the news for the wrong reason; it is not the type of publicity the Premiership craves.
The offences range from driving when above the permitted drinking limit, over speeding resulting in fatal accidents and most forgivably in England, liaisons that are considered scandalous.
None of these is new. However, with the growing stature of the Premiership and its acceptance across borders and cultures, it falls on it to do something about the conduct of the players, otherwise considered role models in England and abroad.
Role models that appear in court for drunkenness and over speeding deserve another role. The Premiership sees this as it own problem, rather than that of the players who can easily move to other leagues where demands on the daily conduct of players off the pitch may be more permissible.
Last February, the Premiership working with the makers of those fast moving automobiles the players patronise, started driving lessons for the players, as if they never earned their licences.
The reason is simpleÂ poor image for players who are involved in over speeding, accidents, are convicts, or regular guests of the courtsÂ do neither the image of the Premiership or the automobile manufacturers any good. Anything that diminishes the image of the Premiership, the league believes, is bad for business and a quick solution has to be found.
Back home, nobody see anything wrong in hundreds who adorned the national colours in different sports walking the streets, many of them destitute, because the country never prepared them for retirement.
The debates rage about them not taking care of their future when they had money. This may be true, but they are part of the sports brand. They form an army of destitutes, whose status simply tells the world that many things are wrong with the Nigerian sports brand.
I think there are possible reasons for treating Nigerian football (and sports) with scant attention: it is not a business and those who (mis)manage it have long discovered that bad image for the game is good business for them.
HAPPY Easter to our readers. May the sacrifices of the risen Lord point out ways for us in our relations with each other. Please email comments, condemnations, or commendations to firstname.lastname@example.org