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The gate keepers

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By Muyiwa Adetiba

The World Cup is just a few weeks away. It is a month long extravaganza created and planned for youths round the world by the old. It is another inescapable irony of life that one of the enduring symbols of youth and liberalism is run by conservative old men. FIFA eschews politics yet, the very choice of venue and hosting right is steeped in politics.

2018 FIFA World Cup: 1.3m tickets allocated, sales restart on Tuesday
Official 2018 FIFA World Cup match-ball

It professes independence yet it is controlled at every turn by powerful people. It encourages fair play yet you wonder how much fair play exists among the ruthless men who make a living off the administration of soccer. It frowns at governmental control yet is in denial of the fact that government pays the piper in many Third World countries. It preaches world unity and harmony yet it is a dog-eat-dog affair within the FIFA body itself. No matter. Perhaps it is the mixture of all these that makes the World Cup fiesta intriguing and enduring.

In spite of its many contradictions or because of it, the world looks up to the World Cup which rotates around the privileged countries of the world every four years. It is therapeutic and calming to the many jarred nerves round the world’s troubled people. It offers distraction from the sabre rattling leaders and terrorist ravaged countries of the world. It unites youths around the world and people around the flag whenever their countries are playing. It is as colour blind as you can get as the emphasis is more on skill than colour. A spectacular goal will vibrate round the world irrespective of the colour or religion of the striker.

It is also as performance based as you can get in a world that wears prejudice tinted lens in rating performances. It is at the world cup that a small country can defeat a big country; a poor country can defeat a rich country and a black country can defeat a white country and no eye brows will be raised. Come to think of it, it is one of the few high stake, world events that a black youth can be given more prominence than his white counterparts in a white dominated country. The sporting world, and the political world stand still during the month long fiesta and rightly so. The world needs more of it to show that given equal access, equal opportunities and a level playing field, people irrespective of colour, race and religion can rise to their full potentials and the world will indeed be a better place.

World Cup participation is the pride of many countries, the dream of many football professionals and the joy of many soccer enthusiasts. Old icons will be celebrated and the torch of soccer wizardry will be passed to emerging icons who will carry it and the football world for another four years. Football is as much about goals as it is about skills. And it is no wonder that those who are celebrated are often the strikers. More than that, they are the most indulged. They are allowed to dribble, show boat and even lose possession.

Yet a football game is won when the goals scored are more than the goals conceded. In the light of this, one would expect that the goal keepers who constantly punish their bodies in performing acrobatic saves; who are expected to control the 18 yard box at a great personal risk; who have to maintain a high level of concentration throughout the duration of the game; and who are ultimately responsible for keeping goals down, would be given more acknowledgements. Yet the fabled ‘a pair of safe hands’ is expected in a goal keeper, not celebrated or even recognised …until something goes wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, Bayern Munich, the German soccer giant, missed the opportunity to appear in the prestigious Champion’s League Finals because of the howler of its goal keeper who was undecided as to whether to handle or kick a back pass and in that split second of indecision, a striker pounced. That moment will forever live in his memory and that of many of his co-players. Worse, it will live in the memory of many of the Bayern Munich fans. All his many saves, including penalty saves, in keeping his club at the top of the Bundesliga, will be relegated to the subconscious. A goal keeper during a World Cup committed suicide because his mistake caused his country to lose a crucial match. A defender was threatened in a Latin American country because his mistake caused a crucial goal in a World Cup match.

Even in Nigeria, a defender was crucified and derided despite his many heroics, because of a mistake he made during an Africa Cup of Nations match. For years, any defender’s error was named after him yet he was one of the best defenders we ever had. Gate keepers are so important to the success of a team. Apart from clearing the lines and keeping marauding strikers at bay, most important moves are started from the rear. A team wins because of the synergy between gate keepers and strikers yet you hardly get the ‘Footballer of the Year’ among the defenders. As it is in soccer, so it is in life.

I first heard the news of the release of a thousand Boko Haram captives on the CNN. I expected words of appreciation from a grateful nation. I heard none. Yet we are all up in verbal arms at the capture of one civilian. Security officers lose their lives everyday around the country, yet they are hardly acknowledged. It is cynical to say they are doing their job after all when the rest of us hardly do ours.

The high insecurity in the country is not caused by security forces. It is caused by a combination of several things like poverty, unemployment, corruption and intolerance—religious and political. It is caused when we flaunt wealth in the midst of scarcity and glorifies same. It is caused when ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ are perpetuated by our leaders. It is caused when we refuse to be our brothers’ keepers by failing to lift them out of grinding poverty. Yet we expect the security forces to mob up our mess with hardly a word of appreciation.

I once came across a sticker which read, ‘if you say the Police are not your friend; when next you are in trouble call an armed robber.’ We need our gate keepers – immigration, customs, police, army-without which our world would be in shambles. We must remember that security, like soccer, is a team work. The more we appreciate each other and work together, the more secured we would be. Let’s not focus solely on the errors of our gate keepers.

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