Football: A great classroom for leadership

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Football: A great classroom for leadership

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

    Nowadays, the world of business, politics and economics will have to get used to the introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have here with us His Excellency George Weah, the President of the Republic of Liberia.” It seems surreal that the former World and African Footballer of the Year is actually the Head of State of Liberia.   

    People who are not football lovers or followers will be surprised but to the football fraternity, it is just the second half of George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah. Football is a great classroom. It teaches participants respect for opponents and authority. It teaches perseverance and that not everything always goes according to plan or schedule. 

    Sometimes, you have normal additional time during a match, extra time for knock-out tournaments and even the heartbreak of penalty shoot-outs. During a football match particularly knock-out matches, depending on which team you are playing for or supporting, you can experience a whole range of emotions, joy, excitement, anxiety and despair.

    No one, in their wildest dreams, could have given a footballer a chance of leading their country. Footballers are sometimes derided for not being very intelligent and smart, especially on academic matters. However, time and again, football players have defied the odds, mainly due to the valuable lessons they learn on the pitch.

    George Weah (53) is not the only one. Another former World Footballer of the Year (1994), Romario de Souza Faria, is making political waves in Brazil. In the 2010 Brazil general elections, Romario was elected to the Chamber of Deputies on the Brazilian Socialist Party ticket. He was sixth in terms of the number of votes cast for the various candidates for a deputy in Rio de Janeiro.  He did not stop there. In 2014, he campaigned for election into the Brazilian Senate. He was elected with the highest number of votes for a candidate from Rio de Janeiro. It really will not be a surprise to hear that Romario has won elections to be the President of Brazil. It is just a question of time.

    Football teaches another great life skill, tenacity. In football, you meet characters like Roy Keane of Manchester United fame or Vinny Jones of Wimbledon or Genaro Gattuso of AC Milan or even Linda Buthelezi former Bafana Bafana player. These characters were most feared, occasionally violent, vile and sometimes sadistic opponents. These are people that, in normal life, you do not want to meet in a dark alley in some remote part of town. However, the greatest joy of football and life, in general, is playing against these opponents with their bone-crunching tackles as well as skills and not just surviving the football match but actually defeating them.

    The great Brazilian, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento, popularly known as Pele, described football as the “beautiful game”. In most instances, it is the beautiful game. However, there are other players who have gone over and beyond the rivalry of the game. However, they too, are valuable lessons in football. We have learnt from them that the aim of the game is not to brutalise, injure and intimidate your opponent into submission but to exhibit superior guile and intelligence to win a match.

    Just like in politics, your opponent is not your enemy but just a rival for votes. African politics, in particular, is riddled with too many examples of extreme brutality and use of dirty tactics to maintain a grip on power. It is sad when dictators in some African countries do not even respect the will of their own people. They lose elections but stay in power due to electoral fraud and chicanery. In football, that is like winning through bribery and match-fixing. It damages the integrity of the entire game. In most parts of Africa, opposition politicians are not treated with respect. They are viewed as mortal enemies and yet they are essential to the whole political process, including elections. However, just like in football, a team can never play a match alone and thereafter declare victory.

    Furthermore, you need to play with people of similar abilities. This means that a team with players on crutches must play with another team with players on crutches. The able-bodied must play against other able-bodied teams at a similar level of performance. It is fair and exciting that way. A team of Sunday social football players cannot compete successfully against professionals such as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Perhaps the most important life lesson to be gained from football is teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. Of course, football is not the only team sport but it is the most popular.  In a team, there might be some brilliant individuals but they cannot succeed alone. The team needs everyone from the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielder and strikers to succeed. If there is no cohesion and hard work, the team is doomed. Footballers definitely know how to solve problems through teamwork. It is the only way!

    As Africa, develops and moves forward, there is a need for more former football players to stand up and contribute to the uplifting of the lives of their people. For sure, former national team captain and now His Excellency President George Weah is just but the first one. Many more are to come!

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