The president and sole financier of Naija Ratels FC, Barrister Paul Edeh has said he is into female football to give something back to the girl-child. In this interview with Daily Trust, the sports enthusiast spoke on his future plans for Naija Ratels FC, the challenges of sponsoring a female football club as well as the state of female football in Nigeria.
What prompted you to set up the female football club, Naija Ratels FC?
I think motivation is hinged on the fact that I always want to give opportunities to the less privileged. And you will agree with me that investors usually tilt more towards male football. So I decided to pick up the challenge to be able to make a difference in the lives of this younger generation and to set the standard as to how a female football club can be run. The girl child is sensitive. If you do not put the right structures in place, you won’t be able to succeed in that regard. So I decided to venture into this to see how I can also play my role in giving back to the girl child.
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Why the name Naija Ratels?
Naija simply is Nigeria in local parlance. Ratel is an animal. A lot of people don’t know it is an animal which is judged by the Guinness book of records to be one of the most fearless animals. Tiny but mighty. It is an animal that fights lions, pythons, name it. So it was easy for me to choose the name ratels because I wanted to build a team that is fearless. So simply put, Naija Ratels is a female professional football club based in Nigeria which is making exploits and is fearless even against opponents who may be considered more formidable.
What are the major challenges you have faced so far in building Naija Ratels FC?
Building a female football club is not the easiest thing to do. The first challenge is the apathy shown by parents in committing their children to participate in female football. I have had to scout for these players. I have had to go into the hinterland. Sometimes when I identify these talents, their parents are not eager to release them to join the team. The second is the challenge of not having the needed infrastructure to be able to harness the potentials found in the girl child. Most of the pitches we found at the grassroots are hard rock pitches. It makes it difficult for the girl child to train on such pitches. It is pretty difficult except for those who are really determined to make a career in football. Thirdly, the government also has not been able to give particular attention to supporting female football. Of course, the NFF through the women football league board is trying but the incentives required to spur these girls to take the game of football seriously as their chosen career is oftentimes not there. There is also the challenge of funding. For now, Naija Ratels FC is sponsored from my personal funds and it has been very difficult because football is capital intensive. It has been hard to find people to support my quest and vision. They don’t see the attraction in supporting female football.
Considering the challenges, do you have any regret venturing into this project?
Well, the only regret venturing into female football sponsorship is that I didn’t start early. If I had started early, I would have gotten more satisfaction and impacted more lives. We are undaunted by the challenges. So far, our team has over 50 players and still counting. We are not only investing in the round leather game. We are also investing in the lives of these young girls. Some of them are in universities on our scholarship. Some are in secondary schools and on scholarship. Even those who dropped out of school are encouraged to go back. We have also put in place attractive incentives like salaries, accommodation, feeding and other welfare packages for the players and officials of the club. My only regret is that we didn’t start early enough.
In more concrete terms, what exactly is your vision for Naija Ratels FC?
First, like I always say, the vision for Ratels FC is not just winning trophies and making money. We want to impact the lives of these girls. So for me, it is a legacy project. We are not building just a football club but a family. The structure is so solid because I didn’t just nominate individuals who were looking for where to earn salaries. I went for individuals who believe in the cause that I have decided to pursue. Even if I decide today that I no longer have interest in Naija Ratels, the club will surely outlive me.
You recently acquired a slot to compete in the second tier of the Nigerian Women Professional Football League. How ready are Naija Ratels for the new challenge?
Well, you can never be too prepared for any task because while you are preparing, your opponents are also preparing to outsmart you. Thus far, we have tried our bit but I can’t say we are totally ready yet. However, I can assure you that our coaching crew is putting in their best to ensure that before the Nigerian Women Professional Football Championship League commences, the girls are fully ready. I can tell you for free that we are no longer where we started. We’ve made tremendous progress.
Where do you hope to see Naija Ratels in the next five years?
Well, our slogan in Naija Ratels is one day at a time so in every year in the five years, I want to see Naija Ratels building lives, moulding lives, investing in the girl child to such an extent that we can identify them in the society that these ones are products of Naija Ratels. I want to see most players in Naija Ratels dominating the Nigerian league space particularly the premiership, winning every trophy there is to win. In the next five years, I see most of our players playing all over the world. I want Naija Ratels to be the major supplier of players for the National U-17, U-20 teams and the Super Falcons. In the next five years, I want us to build our own stadium and build a school where most of our players would come from. And in five years, the club shouldn’t be relying on me for funding.
Why did you relocate the club from Makurdi to Abuja?
We have not relocated Naija Ratels to Abuja. We have only moved one arm of the club to Abuja. I realised when we started that we had over 60 quality players in the team. At a point, we had over 70 players. So what I decided to do was to separate some of the players and move part of them to Abuja where I am based. I left part of the team in Makurdi. What I did in the circumstance is to name the team in Makurdi Honey Badgers FC. What most people don’t realise is that honey baggers is an alternate name for ratels. So we still have Nija Ratels in Makurdi and Abuja. The second Ratels in Makurdi are fully registered and competing in the NWFL nationwide.