Arsene Wenger has ratified Arsenal’s summer tour of Nigeria. The under-fire Gunners manager gave his blessing to the ground-breaking trip and pen was put to paper at the Emirates on Sunday as the club hosted a delegation from the African organisers of the tour.
Arsenal officials met Nigeria Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the planned visit which will be the club’s first ever visit to Africa. The powers that be who pull the purse strings are keen to cash in on the fact that Arsenal have the biggest fan base of any Premier League side (all hail King Kanu) and they reason that taking the “brand” there makes sense for so many reasons.
Of course, traditionally we host an annual pre-season tournament at the Emirates, but it has been postponed because of the 2012 London Olympics. And so to Africa it is.
But is safety an issue? And could the current troubles in Nigeria scupper the plans for Arsenal to travel? Africa’s most populous country is divided between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south. The country has endured spates of sectarian violence over the years, though some of the conflict stems from economic and political factors as well.
The militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for multiple bombings in the northern city of Kano last Friday that killed at least 185 people. Boko Haram killed more than 500 people last year and more than 250 in the first weeks of 2012 in gun and bomb attacks. President Goodluck Jonathan has said members of the Islamist sect have infiltrated the security services and all areas of government.
But it is believed that the squad’s matches take place in the south of the country – in Lagos and further north Abuja (where bomb attacks have occured) – which are relatively peaceful in comparison to the events of late in the north. But only a few days ago soldiers were on the streets of Lagos to stop further protests by Nigerians against the removal of a petrol subsidy.
Naturally, security must have been discussed and presumably Arsenal are happy with the assurances they have received that their safety will be guaranteed. Will that change if troubles escalate?
Last summer I was lucky enough to travel to both Malaysia and China to see the Arsenal games there as part of our tour of Asia. The tour was hugely successful. Might these destinations be reconsidered if events take a turn for the worse in Nigeria?
Or could we hop over the pond to the USA instead? America must be high on the list for the Arsenal to visit at some point, especially given that owner Stan Kroenke is a Sherman.