Valentine Ozigbo (left), the Chairman of Feet ‘N’ Tricks International presents Evelyn Okafor from Nigeria (2nd left), the first prize winner in the female category at the African Freestyle Football Championships held in Lagos, Nigeria in September 2019. Olisa Adibua, a veteran broadcaster and a Director of the sports promoter is on the far right.
By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
Freestyle Unlocked Africa 2020 is set to begin on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 and with the grand finale set to hold on Monday, July 20, 2020.
The largest promoter of Freestyle Football in Africa, Feet ‘N’ Tricks International, has unveiled the maiden edition of the Freestyle UNLOCKED Africa 2020 championship which is first of its kind on the continent.
Valentine Ozigbo, the Chairman of Feet ‘N’ Tricks International, in the company’s first virtual press conference held on Zoom on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, revealed that the championship is going to be online and packed with prizes and surprises to “develop and nurture an art, a lifestyle, and a passion for many”.
Freestyle UNLOCKED Africa 2020 is the fourth installment of the annual football freestyle event.
A respected Nigerian business leader and philanthropist, Mr. Ozigbo, speaking from Lagos, expressed his passion and commitment to continue to grow freestyle football in Africa. “We will not stop till an African emerges the World Champion, and we host the World Freestyle Football Championships in Nigeria and, who knows, it might even be in my home state of Anambra.”
While noting that the world was going through a difficult time owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Ozigbo explained that his passion for the development of the freestyle genre of football spurred him to find a way past the pandemic to continue a tradition which had become his passion. He further stated that while most other sports had shut or scaled-down, freestyle football can go on very easily in a non-contact manner to respect the physical distancing rules.
The press conference was well attended with over 150 participants including leading publishers, journalists, professional freestylers, and sports enthusiasts from across the African continent.
Some of the prominent personalities in attendance were Daniel Wood, co-founder of the World Freestyle Football Association, Amaju Pinnick, Nigeria’s top football administrator, Lukas Skoda, Operations Manager for WFFA, Odyke Nzewi, a Director of Feet n Tricks, and Dele Momodu, the founder of Ovation Media Group.
Top professional freestylers who joined the event are Titi Kone, who is the reigning African champion, Ayoub Haouas from Tunisia, Ashley Mkhize from South Africa, and Patofs from Madagascar.
Daniel Wood who also spoke at the conference thanked Ozigbo for seeing beyond the despair and helplessness in the world to hope and opportunities using virtual means.
Wood stated that the global lockdown caused a lull in global sporting activities but expressed gratitude to Mr. Valentine and his team at Feet ‘N” Tricks for not “letting freestyle football die”.
He further applauded Mr. Ozigbo for his tenacity, as Freestyle Unlocked Africa 2020 is the only freestyle competition holding this year asides the World Freestyle Football Championship which is currently ongoing.
He also expressed his enthusiasm for Freestyle Unlocked Africa 2020 as he saw it as an opportunity to showcase the beauty and talents that are untapped in Africa.
Amaju Pinnick, the President of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), who joined the conference from Warri, Nigeria, delivered a goodwill message in which he echoed the praises and encouragement of Mr. Wood.
Mr. Pinnick said he viewed the event as an opportunity for youths to be gainfully occupied in a period where sports activities had been paused by most countries. According to his, Mr. Ozigbo’s decision to hold a virtual competition gave him “priceless satisfaction”.
He went on to wish Mr Ozigbo and his team the best of luck for Freestyle Unlocked Africa 2020 and pledged support from the country’s football federation.
Giving a breakdown of the mechanics for the event, Mr. Ozigbo explained that just like previous editions, the competition is designed for inclusiveness and will have male and female competitors battling for daily $50, $30 and $20 cash prizes in the People’s Choice category. While the Judges Choice category, in the last week of the contest, will see freestyle footballers compete for the $1000 grand prize. There are other prizes of $750, $500, $250, and $150 for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th place winners. A total of $6,300 will be given out in cash prizes.
Valentine Ozigbo, who is the immediate past President and Chief Executive Officer of Transcorp Plc, called on well-meaning sponsors and sports-lovers alike to seize this chance to push forward a culture that can rally people and foster unity and oneness.