On September 30, 2018, the Hive Stadium in London, home to English football club, Barnet FC will come alive as some of the greatest football legends trade tackles before eager, expectant spectators at the Petrolex-Kanu Cup.
Barnet is not one of the most popular teams in England; it participates in the National league, the fifth tier of English Football. What makes the match at Barnet’s Hive stadium special is that it will be played to mend broken hearts. These hearts have not been broken by failed relationships but by failed health.
According to the World Health Organization, heart diseases are the leading cause of death in the world, with the African region having the highest prevalent rate. Many kids in Africa are born with congenital heart problems and their parents do not have the means to provide for the surgery needed to correct these malformities. Many times, great dreams are cut short because a kid with a glorious future died from a heart disease. At the Hive Stadium, the legends will play to help these kids save their dreams and their future. The proceeds from the game will go into paying for the surgeries to heal them.
Kanu Nwankwo, the brain behind the Petrolex-Kanu cup has been in the same situation with these kids before. More than two decades ago, while playing at Inter Milan, he was diagnosed with a heart disease. He had just received gold from the Olympics at Atlanta and he had a glorious future ahead; a future that was threatened by heart disease. Kanu eventually went through a series of open-heart surgeries to mend his failing heart. He triumphed over his infirmity and became one of the greatest players Africa ever produced, winning the Champions league once, and the Premier league twice. He also won the African footballer of the year twice. Kanu’s battle with heart disease was a turning point in his life; he launched the Kanu Heart Foundation to help kids with heart problems so that just like him, their infirmity will not cut short their dreams.
Today, Kanu Nwankwo has found a partner in Olusegun Adebutu, the CEO of Petrolex, a Nigerian oil and gas conglomerate and sponsor of the upcoming football match. Through his business and his philanthropic activities, Adebutu has reached out to hundreds, and perhaps, thousands in Nigeria. His company, Petrolex has just built a huge tank farm that is expected to help Nigeria meet up with supply of much-needed petroleum products. Petrolex is also building a refinery, expected to boost local production and help relieve the country of imports. Adebutu’s philanthropic organization, the Oladiran Olusegun Adebutu Foundation (OOAF), takes care of over 500 underprivileged and vulnerable children. The foundation feeds these kids and sends them to school. One of the most the most touching stories from the foundation is that of Treasure Davies; a boy who was born with a hole in the heart. Adebutu undertook the full responsibility for his heart operation in Nigeria by specialists flown in from the United States. Today, Treasure’s heart has been mended, and so have his dreams.
As an oil businessman, Adebutu is mending hearts, so also is Nwankwo, a retired footballer and football Icon in Nigeria. The two have come together to rally other people with a common cause to mend more hearts through football. The Petrolex-Kanu Cup is organised by Masters Football, a London-based events and sports promoter and it will be an exhibition match between two teams created from Kanu’s rich football experience: Premier League All-Stars versus African All Stars. While the Premier League stars will be drawn from teams Kanu played for during his glittering career in the UK -Arsenal, WBA and Portsmouth, the African All Stars will include many of the African players who played alongside Kanu or against him. Stars that have already signed up for the challenge include Jay-Jay Okocha, Teddy Sheringham, Sol Campbell and Robert Pirès.
The organizers of the Petrolex-Kanu cup have said the proceeds from the football match will go to the children at the Kanu Heart Foundation, who are in dire need of open-heart surgeries. A statement on Kanu Foundation’s website says the foundation is aiming to raise $35M to build the new cardiac centre in Abuja, Nigeria, and reduce costly travel and accommodation fees for sick children and their families.
Much more still needs to be done to mend hearts by more empowered people from all walks of life. Yet, whatever comes out from this will be priceless in saving the lives of several kids. Everyone who buys the ticket to watch the legends play at the Hive stadium will be proud, knowing they have contributed towards saving a child. In Africa, football is very powerful at breaking boundaries and uniting people, yet it has also been used as a political tool. However, Kanu Nwankwo, Adebutu, Barnet FC, Masters Football, and the legends playing on September 30, 2018 are showing us that football can also mend broken hearts.
…..Bello Razaq is an aspiring football coach in Lagos