Beverley Agbakoba-Onyejianya, head of the regulatory and compliance practice at Olisa Agbakoba Legal, said she started the academy in 2012 as “a little project on the side” when she couldn’t find anywhere for her then pre-schooler, Luca, to play.
Luca has long since moved on but the academy has continued to grow (130 children playing at two sites) and his mother has developed a busy legal practice in sports regulatory compliance, governance and intellectual property protection.
Agbakoba-Onyejianya said a lawyer-friend made her see the link between her professional life in regulatory compliance and her passion for youth sport.
“I did some homework and found that in Nigeria there was very little legal help around sports governance,” she said.
As her practice has grown Agbakoba-Onyejianya has become involved in the Nigerian Economic Summit Group – most especially the thematic group focused on the sports industry.
“Nigeria has so much talent but there is a big need for proper regulatory frameworks that can support and build the many disciplines,” she said.
One issue close to her heart is the shocking human trafficking taking place in football in Nigeria – especially of young, talented but disadvantaged players. In January this year Agbakoba-Onyejianya and her colleague, Olayinka Suara, penned an article on the issue.
“This high mobility rate of minors within the football industry raises questions about player safety, welfare, and rights. Unfortunately, the risk of exposure of young players to emotional and physical harm, financial exploitation, and human trafficking football is also becoming more and more widespread due to lack of awareness,” they wrote.
The only way to curb it, they conclude, was through the enforcement of regulations starting with the proper registration of children with clubs and then ensuring the systems were in place to track talent right all the way to the top of the game.
For Agbakoba-Onyejianya her growth into an area of law so under represented and in need of expertise has been an eye-opener.
“As lawyers we all start as generalists and then tend to follow the established paths expected of lawyers, yet there are huge parts of society that need our expertise and which offer opportunities to grow a practice.
“As someone working in regulation I never thought about a career in sports law yet here I am – having arrived in this place through being a mother and wanting to create opportunities for my children.” Her youngest son, Nico, while only a pre-schooler, is loving being involved in his mom’s soccer academy and her daughter, Olanna is a keen swimmer and gymnast. Luca, now 10, is trying new sports.
The future, Agbakoba-Onyejianya says, is exciting with massive need for legal services and regulatory expertise across the creative industries in Nigeria.
“And then of course there is the football club which is just getting bigger and bigger,” she laughs.