By Godwin Aikigbe
The inaugural edition of Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL) is expected to kick off in July, with 79 public and private universities across the country participating.
This follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing Limited and Nigeria Universities Games Association at Raddison Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos on Tuesday.
The teams will be grouped into Atlantic (South) and Savannah (Nort) zones, with the best 16 teams taking part in a league that will commence after 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. The semi-finals will hold at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos.
Speaking at the well-attended occasion, Director, Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing Company, Sola Fijabi, assured prospective sponsors of corporate governance, adding that the tournament will produce talents to represent Nigeria at major sporting events as in the past.
“HiFL is where the world’s largest youth bulge meets the most football-loving nation. HiFL being a private sector led platform will be a perfect fit for discerning partners,” he stated.
NUGA President, Professor Hamafyelto, described the occasion as a paradigm shift to sport development in Nigeria, blaming the decline in collegiate sports in Nigeria on lack of funding.
He said: “It’s a privilege to congratulate NUGA and Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing for this achievement. I dare say with every certainty that this is when ordinary people rise above the expectation and seize the opportunity that milestones truly are reached.
“Series of barriers, which rests on funding, have been implicated for the decline of students’ attendance in sports in Nigerian Universities. One of the forces that can shape the future of sport in Nigeria universities remains funding through sponsorship. To achieve this, we have to do what the Chinese are doing. With sponsorship, there are over 300 millions Chinese youth currently playing basketball in China. This is roughly the population of U.S.A.”
Also speaking at the occasion, Ahmed Shuaibu-Gara Gombe, President, Green White Green Sports Centre, Technical Consultant to NiFL, described the universities as reservoirs of football talents, which NiFL is out to harness.
“The average age of university student is between 16 and 21, which suggests that our sport will thrive better if the talents at that level are properly harnessed. We used to have universities students representing the country at Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games, Olympic Games and other major sporting events, but that has not happened in a long time. The programme is meant to bridge that gap. The football league will be done in such a way that it will not disrupt academic activities of the students,” said the fiery sport critic and former chairman of Gombe Football Association and Gombe United FC.