Driving tourism through COPA Lagos

A player of Sand Sand Eagles of Nigeria in action at the 2015 Copa Lagos beach soccer tournament. All is set for the 2016 edition.

A player of Sand Sand Eagles of Nigeria in action at the 2015 Copa Lagos beach soccer tournament. All is set for the 2016 edition.

The 2016 edition of COPA Lagos soccer tournament, which begins tomorrow, will be different from past editions, says organisers of the year-end event, which attracts fun-loving Nigerians at home and abroad to the sandy beach of Eko Atlantic City. In this report, GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR looks at the history of the event, its contributions to Nigeria’s sports and tourism, and what the organisers are doing to make this year’s edition one to remember.

The chief executive officer of Kinetic Sports, Samson Adamu, says his mission is to make Copa Lagos bigger than just a beach football tournament. He said that his organization would turn the COPA Lagos into a major spectacle that will put Nigeria in the global tourism space and promote a beach lifestyle among Nigerians. In fact, he says, he dreams of making Nigerian beaches major tourist attractions – just like Miami and other exotic islands.

Contrary to projections, Nigeria has failed to lure to its beaches and jungles the thousands of tourists that flock the continent yearly. Tourism experts say the flow of tourists to the country, which spent more to host the mega-event than any nation in the continent, has remained flat.

From Kuramo to Ishahayi, Oniru to Eleko, Lagos boasts some outstanding beaches. Yet several hurdles, from high costs to poor marketing and logistics and many other factors mean many potential visitors choose to go elsewhere.

It may look like a tall dream for Adamu to turn the Lagos beaches to instant money earners. Still in his 30s, he has already achieved what most, at his age would only have dreamt of. For one, he is credited with organising the very first major beach tournament in Sub-Saharan Africa. His pet project, COPA Lagos, which he launched in 2011, has become an international event and firmly etched on the global sporting calendar. Sponsored by firms such as, FCMB, Pepsi, Hero Lager and Wakanow, it has become something many Nigerian, African and international brands, and sports administrators around the world look forward to.

The year-on-year success of the event was, no doubt, behind the country winning the hosting rights for this year’s African Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, the continent’s qualifier for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Bahamas 2017. In fact, according to Adamu, that was part of his original targets in setting up the COPA Lagos tournament.

“Part of the plan when we started was that after a few years, we should be able to host an African Beach Soccer Cup of Nations in Nigeria and this is coming at our (COPA Lagos) sixth year and we are organising it this year. So you can imagine that we are very happy that our target has been realised … very much on target,” he said.

Having accomplished that, he has set for himself another target – to host the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Nigeria by 2021. Again another tall dream. But from his achievements so far, not many Nigerians will bet against that happening.

Already, his company has put in motion several programmes to not only get Nigeria ready for such hosting, but also to make sure that the country’s beach soccer team, the Super Sand Eagles performs very well in the competition. He believes that yearly experience of organising the COPA Lagos should put Nigeria in a good position to host the World Cup.

To improve Nigeria’s strength in the sport, he wants to introduce a viable beach soccer league in the country like some of the countries, which have dominated the sport, do have.

His company, Kinetic Sports, already did a test run two years ago when it introduced the ‘Club Challenge’ to COPA Lagos, with traditional Nigerian football clubs like Enyimba FC, the Stationary Stores of Lagos, Kano Pillars, the 3SC (Shooting Stars) of Ibadan involved in a tournament with FC Barcelona’s beach soccer team.

Attracting such international teams has been a regular feature of the event. Notable international teams that have taken part in COPA Lagos include: Brazil, England, South Africa, Portugal, Argentina, Lebanon, Germany, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana. This year’s tournament will see the debut of the Switzerland national beach soccer team, one of the powerhouses in world beach soccer. The Swiss team is penciled to meet Nigeria’s Super Sand Eagles in an international match at this year’s tournament.

It is a match that no fan would want to miss, especially considering the pedigree of the Swiss team. Currently ranked Number 5 in the Beach Soccer World Rankings, it won the Euro Beach Soccer League Championship in 2012, and was the runner up at the 2009 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Runner-ups in Dubai and Euro Beach Soccer Cup 2014 in Baku. Coached by Angelo Shirinzi who has been nominated for three consecutive years for the Best Coach of the World Award, the team has players who will set the competition alight.

Notable among them is veteran captain, Moritz Jaeggy who played his 300th game for Switzerland in the last FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup; Noel Ott, one of the best players in the World at the moment who was named the Rising Star of 2014, and Dejan Stankovic, one of the deadliest finishers in the game. Currently 2016’s top beach soccer scorer in the world, with 63 goals in 28 matches, Stankovic has been the top scorer of the Euro Beach Soccer League on five occasions: 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016; an MVP in 2007 and 2011, as well as the Adidas Golden Ball winner at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009.

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