Lagos State Governor, Mr Babatunde Fashola on Thursday received the UEFA Champions League trophy on a world tour from former World Footballer of the Year, Ruud Gullit, with a challenge that Nigerians must take benefit of the power of football as tool for growing economies and alleviating poverty.
The Governor who spoke at the Conference Room of the Lagos House, Ikeja, when he received the trophy team from the Nigerian Breweries Plc led by the Marketing Director, Mr Walter Direnth added that millions of kids can be taken off the streets in addition to millions of people who can benefit as jobs could be created in stadia through stewards, food vending and transportation.
He said the tour of the trophy to the country presents an opportunity for Nigerians to begin to think deeply about how they can turn what is a global passion into a great economic opportunity for the region, state and community.
According to the Governor, though the UEFA Champions League Cup is a European Cup, there are opportunities and lessons that Nigeria could learn from what people Europe has done with its club football and for African football.
“Can we increase the sponsorship for the African Champions league and can we increase television rights pay offs and so on. It is really in our hands in terms of what to do. We have all of the big brands here, we have television coverage now, the internet reach and the media reach is also increasing”, he stressed.
The Governor explained that the trophy symbolizes many long nights of engagements and passion in Nigerian homes and communities and thanked the Nigerian Breweries Plc for bringing it to Nigeria and to Lagos and expressed the hope that the inspirational purpose of the trophy’s tour would be served.
He also sought the possibility of getting some school kids in the state to make contact with the trophy before it leaves the country by arranging a gathering in the stadium with the kids so that they can have a feel of the visit of an accomplished player like Ruud Gullit.
He recalled that some of the things that his administration has done include bringing in players who are still in currency and those who have retired, adding that Rio Ferdinand and Emmanuel Adebayor were in Lagos in the past on similar visits.
According to the Governor, if Ruud Gullit can find the time, government can do something and start off a development, maintaining that he was certain the kids would be thrilled just to run around with Ruud Gullit and that the State would be ready to do everything that it takes to make it happen.
“The Williams Sisters came here and it was a wonderful day sitting back and watching them in the arena, I felt really delighted about that kind of interaction for our children”, he added.
Speaking earlier, a former World Footballer of the year and Heineken Ambassador, Ruud Gullit thanked the State Government for the invitation to the team, restating that he knows how good the Nigerian national team was in the past which produced excellent players some of whom he has played against in charity matches. He described his footballing experience as unbelievable as it is for any player in the world to have played at the pinnacle and win the champions league which he has had the privilege of doing twice.
Also speaking, the Marketing Director of Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr Walter Direnth expressed the gratitude of the company to the State Government for the reception accorded to the team on the trophy tour. Ruud Gullit later unveiled the trophy before presenting it to the Lagos State Governor while the guests present including Commissioner for Youth, Sports and Social Development, Mr Enitan Oshodi, former Nigerian internationals Austin “Jay Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh had photo sessions with the trophy.