In Nigeria, there is a strong connection between sports and progressive social development. Aliogo Dunia explores how the Coca-Cola System has leveraged sports to transform communities in the past 70 years of its operations in Nigeria.
On August 3, 1996, a new wave of optimism swept through the Nigerian landscape. Ethnic identities vanished, political differences collapsed, religious and social stratifications gave way for a nation of about 111 million people at the time, united in victory.
Team Nigeria had just won gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. It was a moment of national pride, ushering the West African nation into the pantheon of global soccer icons.
But beyond the power of sports to unite a nation, as seen in the Atlanta triumph, is also its latent force as a metaphor for hope and progress. In shanties, inner cities and cold, forgotten slums, a horde of young Nigerians wake up everyday with that hope – an optimism that sports could change their story forever.
Within the seven decades of their operations in Nigeria, the Coca-Cola System in Nigeria has played a significant role in the advancement of the Nigerian sports sector, helping Nigerian youths translate that hope to reality.
Though, that should not come as a surprise. Historically, the Coca-Cola System has always been at the forefront of corporate support for the development of football in Nigeria, dating as far back as the 1950s.
In 1965, the Nigerian Bottling Company sponsored the inaugural edition of the West Africa Inter University Games (WAUG) held in Ibadan, Oyo State. The Company would go on to support the 3rd All Africa Table Tennis Championship which held in 1969 in Lagos.
It is this passion for strengthening the local sports landscape that birthed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Coca-Cola Nigeria partnership in 2018. The 5-year partnership worth $4 million highlights Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited as the Official Soft Drink Company and Sponsor of Nigeria’s football teams.
At the core of that partnership is a clear commitment to deepening the growth of the nation’s sports sector, fostering optimism and unity, while making a positive difference in the local communities.
The Coca-Cola System has also shown commitment to boosting richer consumer experiences with FIFA. It has invested in some of the biggest sporting events in Nigeria through ongoing partnerships between Coca-Cola and the English Premier League as well as the world football governing body.
Partnerships such as these have brought the FIFA World Cup trophy to Nigeria thrice. This has given many consumers and sports lovers across the country the opportunity to travel and watch live football tournaments and immerse themselves in the thrills and magic of soccer.
The System also facilitated the introduction of COPA Coca-Cola, a global youth soccer tournament, which provides opportunity for young football players and aspiring professionals to develop and showcase their talents in competitive matches. The duo of Nigeria’s Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and Union Berlin forward Taiwo Awoniyi based in Germany, both rose to prominence through this platform.
The annual tournament, which is recognized by the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), holds over a four-month period. It features a football clinic, personal development and life skills training, exposure to international football fora as well as inspirational coaching and mentorship provided by some of Nigeria’s best known international football stars such as Jay- Jay Okocha, Mutiu Adepoju, Garba Lawal, Victor Ikpeba, amongst others.
As an initiative that is widely embraced by football lovers across the country, Copa Coca-Cola unites more than 1 million teens while promoting an active lifestyle. In 2017, Coca-Cola reached out to over 5,000 students across 36 states of the federation.
Since its launch in 2009, more than 10, 000 players from 500 schools and 50 celebrity football coaches have participated in the programme which has reached the 36 states and the FCT, Abuja. The programme has become a scouting forum for professional football clubs and spotlighted the impressive performance by Copa Coca-Cola players currently plying their trade in local and international football clubs.
Coca-Cola System’s contributions to Nigeria’s sports are ubiquitous but loom larger in local communities. The programme impact includes improvement in football pitches in schools, donation of football kits to hundreds of schools, among others.
As part of the Coca-Cola system’s commitment to promote the wellbeing and development of host communities, Coca-Cola also completed the expansion and modernization of Araromi Youth Development Centre in Gbagada, regarded as one of the oldest community youth and sports centres in Lagos, Nigeria’s bustling economic capital.
Originally constructed by the Lagos State Government, the centre is renowned as the pitch where some of Nigeria’s best-known football stars, including Obafemi Martins, cut their teeth in the game.
The centre, which consisted of a dusty football field and a hall with a small standing pavilion and facilities in varying states of disrepair, was upgraded to an ultra-modern youth centre.
This includes the construction of an 11-aside football grassed pitch equipped with flood lights, 2 sets of dugouts for reserve players; a 1,000-seating capacity pavilion with ramps for disabled persons, changing rooms for players and referees, 2 units of VIP lounges, an administrative office and a parking lot.
Coca-Cola’s sterling role in advancing Special Olympics Nigeria (SON) is equally remarkable. Since the initiative was launched in Nigeria in 2006, Coca-Cola has been one of the largest and longest running corporate sponsors.
The partnership is hinged on the shared values of optimism, acceptance, and inclusion, which Special Olympics and Coca-Cola have brought to communities across the nation. In addition to cash donations to support local training and fund participation at international games, Coca-Cola also donates its beverages and encourages its employees to donate time and expertise to support SON programmes as part of the Coca-Cola Ambassador volunteering initiative.
In 2014, Coca-Cola adopted the Special Olympics Unified Soccer initiative and expanded the scope of its sponsorship to include donation of football kits and engagement of some of Nigeria’s best known international football players and coaches to train and inspire the country’s Unified Soccer team as it prepared for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, USA.
Coca-Cola employees donated 282-man hours in training with the team and two of the employees also featured as Partner Athletes on the SON Unified Soccer team which won the gold medal for Unified Soccer at the Games. Overall, the Team Nigeriaontingent to the Games won a total of 71 medals, including 29 Gold, in various sports.
In the South-East region of the country, the Nigerian Bottling Company has raised the bar of local sports leveraging its strategic partnership with local communities and groups. Through its annual sponsorship of major football tournaments in communities like Irete in Imo State and Ohabiam in Abia state, NBC is fostering peace, engendering wellbeing and a breeding ground for sports talent.
“Sports portends cultural and socio-economic significance. As a system, it is one of the major tools we have leveraged over the years to stimulate development in our communities, unite people across the nation and inspire faith in a shared future,” said Alfred Olajide, Managing Director of Coca-Cola Nigeria Ltd.
“Nigeria is a nation of incredible sports talents, and our goal is to continue to nurture the right atmosphere that allows the healthy growth of sports in Nigeria, particularly community football.”
Like sands in the seashore, the impact of the Coca-Cola System on the Nigerian sports scene shines on. It is a partnership that has inspired hope, rekindled shattered dreams, brought together Nigerians from across the divide, and made stars out of the dust.
It is a partnership that is central to our common hope as a nation – that we rise and fall together. We need more of these partnerships to build the Nigeria of our dreams.