The UN declaration of World Football Day

Across the globe, everyday is football day. But the United Nations (UN) recently officially declared May 25 every year as World Football Day. The declaration was borne out of the fact that football is recognised globally as the pre-eminent sport played by at least one out of every five persons. It is also to mark the 100th anniversary of the first international football tournament in history with representation of all regions which took place on May 25, 1924, during the Summer Olympic Games held in Paris, France.

In sanctioning May 25 as World Football Day, the United Nations recognises its broad appeal and accessibility, making it a potent instrument for promoting health and well-being. It has also served as a vital platform for advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls, both on and off the field.

Furthermore, it serves as a catalyst for social inclusion, fostering unity and breaking down barriers between diverse communities, providing space and/or platforms for individuals to converge to promote mutual understanding, tolerance, respect and solidarity.

Association football as it was referred to by the British founders of the sport in 1850; the game has grown by leaps and bounds, spreading across the universe. The first competitive football tournament took place in 1881 at the Hibernian Park in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Regarded as the king of sports, football has evolved from being a pastime and amateur enterprise to a money- spinning venture, with professional footballers listed as multi-billionaires and rubbing shoulders with the wealthiest business moguls across the world by just kicking the round leather around for 90 or so minutes on the pitches.

According to statistics, there are over 250m players involved in the sport, followed by more than one billion fans.

Organised football is overseen by the governing body, the Federation Internationale de  Football Association (FIFA), founded in 1904, about five decades after the game was introduced. The body also has six continental federations affiliated to it and responsible for organising and overseeing football activities. At the national level, all football federations are linked to the continental bodies.

Each bodies organise various layers of championships, the youth and senior tournaments with the quadrennial World Cup Finals as the flagship. The continental bodies in turn organise biennial football showpieces.

The sport became gender friendly when FIFA gave a nod to the female football championship in 1991, lasting for 80 minutes. Four years later, the global body sanctioned the first female FIFA World Cup Tournament across junior and senior players.

Over several decades, modern football has been transformed into a multi-billion naira industry. The global football market value is put at $4.19bn and is expected to rise to $5.65bn by 2031. Nigerian footballers are among the relatively rich individuals who have been able to rescue their families, benefactors and friends from the jaws of poverty and contributing the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

Football has become a tool for national and international integration. It fosters friendship across all races because its followers speak the same language despite their racial, ethnic and socio-cultural backgrounds. For instance, in Nigeria, no pastime unites its citizens than football. It is in football championships that Nigerians jettison religious, tribal and regional affiliations and act, unite as a force or one huge family to support their national teams at all levels during international football engagements.

Some Nigerians are so emotionally attached to the national teams that have paid the supreme price when Nigeria performed poorly or lost at football tournaments.

Besides monetary gains, football has also brought honours and recognition to players who have excelled at one time or another. In Nigeria, many footballers have bagged national honours for doing the nation proud during continental championships like the Africa Cup of Nations or Afcon, with landed property to boot. They are also accorded respect and recognition.

It is also on record that footballers are treated like diplomats at various entry and exit points across the globe. Their luggage and persons are not subjected to any scrutiny or search by relevant agencies at the airports.

It is worthy of note that the FIFA President, Gianni Infantino has welcomed the UN declaration with an appeal to extend the commemoration over a period of one week. We are in sync with him.

There is no doubt that football will continue to remain as the King of all sports. A sporting championship like the Commonwealth Games without football participation, for whatever reasons, is generally regarded as an empire without an emperor.