ESPN’s Built to Play Initiative Sees Football pitch opened in Makoko, Nigeria

By Alexander Johnson Adejoh

The informal settlement of Makoko in inner city Lagos is largely built on stilts and uses canoes for transport, but a new football pitch is giving the community a solid foundation.

A new football pitch has been opened in the Makoko Area of Lagos, Nigeria, as part of ESPN’s built to Play initiative, and serves a community of nearly 100,000 people where there is no other pitch.

Makoko is an informal settlement in Lagos, and is built largely on stilts, as one third of the impoverished area is built over Lagos Lagoon. A common method of transportation is by canoe, and the primary industry is fishing, leaving very little space for sports fields.

In collaboration with Kick4Life, Slum2School, and, the first-in-Africa facility will serve the 3 000 learners of the school upon whose premises it is built, as well as the surrounding community.

The initiative provides not only sports courts for play, but holistic support that empowers the local community and provides jobs skills and life-skills training to enable young people to have a more positive future.

Nine play spaces in eight ESPN territories across the globe have been built prior to this one, including in Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney.

The gates to the centrally located 30 x 98 metre field are left open so that anyone can utilize the space to hone their football skills, play a friendly game, or simply enjoy themselves kicking a ball.

To ensure that the field not only serves as a space for healthy enjoyment and collaboration, but also one where health and well-being development can take place, Kick4Life, together with Slum2School are training 14 local coaches to deliver a co-created sport curriculum to young people in the local community (7 young men and 7 young women).

This football-focussed training will be delivered to 420 children and young people in the local community, with ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Additionally, tuition that addresses key challenges facing young people in the area related to health, gender equality and life-skills development, will be provided.

Canoes are the most common method of transport in Makoko, with the waterways and stilts not leaving much room for sports fields.

As recently as 2020, Makoko didn’t appear on most maps as anything other than a blank space, and the estimates of how many people living there were, and still are, a guess at best.

According to the Pulitzer Center, who in 2020 set out to start local mapping and drone recording of the area: ‘Being a blank spot on the map means authorities never adequately allocate resources to Makoko, or worse, exploit the lack of awareness to grab the land and displace dwellers.’