Mikel, Okocha, Yakubu, Martins, Yobo—Nigeria has produced a wealth of soccer talent over the years, and it’s still going strong. In 1996, the Nigerian team won gold at the Atlanta Olympics, and in the years since, we’ve seen Nigerian players line-up in every major soccer league around the world.
But despite the abundance of talent that this country produces, many Nigerian youngsters are forced to play with makeshift soccer balls and wood for goalposts. They don’t have the opportunities, equipment, and athletic education afforded to so many Americans.
It’s something that Folabi Solanke knows all too well and something he is trying to change.
This American-Nigerian entrepreneur has devoted his time and money to providing opportunities for poverty-stricken Nigerian youngsters.
“I see it as education and opportunity through sport,” the Arizona-native says. “My goal is not to create the next generation of Nigerian soccer stars, but to raise awareness and add a little meaning.
In the US, we have access to the best sports facilities, coaches, and equipment in the world. A kid can grab a baseball mitt and play catch with their parents. They can pick up a ball and shoot some hoops in the gym or play soccer in the park. But what happens when you don’t have goalposts or facilities; what happens when you don’t even have soccer balls?”
Solanke worked with the USL team Phoenix Rising to provide local communities in Nigeria with goalposts, shin guards, footballs and other sporting equipment, before organizing tournaments with locals.
Every year, he heads over to Nigeria to stage a GENERATIONS Tournament, and every year he raises a little more awareness and makes more of an impact.
He provides kids in the poorest areas of Nigeria with essential equipment and opportunities, opening doors that will eventually lead to better education and healthcare.
The philanthropist hopes to attract the attentions of athletes and influencers who can help him in his endeavors. “I can only do so much,” he admits candidly. “With assistance from more teams and athletes—just a little awareness—I can reach more kids in need and make a bigger difference.”
Never underestimate the power of sport. As Solanke can attest, a few simple pieces of equipment and a tournament or two can change lives.