Abuja, Nigeria


Photographer: Aleksei Akseshin

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Everyone in Mpape, a slum area in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, knows football coach Sword Umoroigwe, a former player with the Nigerian national team, and his Super Star Soccer Academy. Founded in 2000, the academy now has nearly 60 footballers on its books, aged from four to their early 20s, five of them girls. When they join the academy, everyone pays a oneoff enrolment fee of 25,000 naira (about US$85 at Nigeria’s unofficial exchange rate) for clothes and basic equipment. But after that they train and play for free. The academy’s training ground is next to a rubbish dump. When the wind swings round to the northeast, rubbish and acrid smoke blow across the pitch. Coaching takes place every day apart from Sunday, starting at seven o’clock. Sessions begin with a collective prayer shared by everyone, both Christian and Muslim. Sword has taken teams from his academy to competitions in other countries in Africa and once to Europe, to play in Denmark’s Dana Cup, a competition held every year for youth teams from around the world.