From fintech to football: With Sporting Lagos, Paystack's Shola Akinlade hopes to change the game in Nigeria

    Sporting Lagos FC team members at the Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos.

    Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)On February 13, hundreds of people gathered at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial center. The crowd was there to see a new club, Sporting Lagos FC, play its first-ever football match.

    The match ended in a draw after Sporting Lagos equalized as a result of an own goal from Go Round FC, leaving supporters of the new club buzzing with excitement.
    The club, which currently plays in the Nigerian National League, the country's second-tier, is the brainchild of Shola Akinlade, co-founder and CEO of financial technology company Paystack, which he says was acquired for more than $200 million in 2020 by Irish American financial services company Stripe. Akinlade, who is also a tech investor, says he intends for Sporting Lagos to be a platform for community development and social change.

      Football for change

        Akinlade told CNN that his motivation to create the football club came during a moment of self-reflection in 2021. "I lost my dad last year and I was looking at my 75-year-old mum, and it occurred to me that I need to build something that has staying power," he said. "Football is one of those things because it is built around communities."
        Shola Akinlade is the co-founder and CEO of Paystack.
        He says the goal of the club is to use football to create job opportunities for communities in Nigeria, and he plans to find young, untapped talents and train them to excel at the sport.
        "There are so many people that are born with these skills, but it doesn't convert to opportunity," Akinlade said. "So I want us to spend the next 30, 40 years building something that helps the next generation of football talents in Nigeria."
          Akinlade pulled in some of his most influential friends as a brain trust -- including ESPN journalist Colin Udoh and sports administrator Godwin Enakhena, both now part of the club's governing body. "My brain cannot solve all these problems," Akinlade said. "But if I have a lot of powerful brains solving the same problem, it will be helpful. I just shared it around and everyone just came up with their own ideas on how this could work."
          Sporting Lagos currently ranks third in the league, after ten games.

          Investing in talent

          In Nigeria, managing a football club is often challenging, and teams have to deal with problems including poor infrastructure, unpaid player salaries, and a lack of funding.
          Nigerian sports journalist Tolu Olasoji says that clubs are mostly owned and run by the government, and are often lacking in structure. As a result, many that are run privately, struggle.