Air Peace announces rewards for Montreal 76 Olympics, 1980 AFCON heroes
The saying that though it might not happen when it is expected, good deeds are ultimately rewarded in God’s time is about to be fulfilled in the lives of some Nigerian sports heroes, who flew the country’s flag at the ill-fated Montreal 1976 Olympic Games and the 1980 African Cup of Nations.
Nigeria, with so many leading athletes in its squad, alongside 29 other countries pulled out of the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games in protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa and New Zealand’s endorsement of that infamous policy by engaging the Nicolaas Johannes Diederichs’ led country in sports diplomacy.
Although fair-minded world leaders applauded the Africa-led boycott of the Olympics, successive governments or corporate bodies have not mitigated the effect on some of the athletes, whose life ambitions crumbled with the action.
But the heroes’ wait for recognition is about to end with the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) Sports Diplomacy Wall of Fame, powered by founder of Air Peace Airlines, Dr. Allen Onyema, set to recognise and thank them for services to their country.
Also listed for recognition at the programme titled, ‘From Olympics’ boycotts to hosting the World- West Africa FIFA World Cup 2034,’ are members of the senior national team, Green Eagles, who in 1980 won the country’s first African Cup of Nations title at the competition hosted by Nigeria.
Speaking at the unveiling of the programme in Lagos, yesterday, Chairman, Air Peace Airlines, Onyema, said he was motivated by the need to show Nigerian youths that they would get their due reward if they served the country diligently, even when such rewards do not come immediately.
He announced that members of the Montreal Olympics team and the 1980 Green Eagles will get 12 return tickets each every year to travel within the country for the rest of their lives and also one international return ticket yearly to the routes operated by Air Peace for the rest of their lives.
These rewards, he said are apart from some monetary awards to be announced during the unveiling of the Wall of Fame on July 28, 2023.
According to Onyema, “the athletes to be honoured are Nigerians who made the country proud in the past. These are athletes who sacrificed opportunity to be great in Canada and heeded Nigeria’s call to boycott the Olympics on the eve of the Games. The same country that ordered them to give up their ambitions has not honoured these athletes.
“We are also honouring those that won the African Cup of Nations in 1980 because that feat united the country in a way that had never happened before. The Wall of Fame has been built at the NIIA with the heroes’ names written in gold.
“Those members of the teams, now late, would get post-humous rewards, while their families will get some financial rewards, which modalities would be sorted out before the event.”
Speaking on behalf of the awardees, Nigeria’s former football captain, Segun Odegbami, thanked Onyema for his enduring generosity, saying history would be kind to him for his efforts in nation-building.
Odegbami recalled the events that led to the boycott of the 1976 Olympic Games, lamenting, however, that some of the athletes affected by the decision have not recovered from its aftermath.
“We are happy that at last somebody has decided to recognise we made for the country in 1976 and at the 1980 African Cup of Nations.
“Here is somebody who wants to address the issue of welfare of retired and ageing athletes; to delve into history and unearth, honour, celebrate and reward forgotten sports heroes; and to celebrate members of the Green Eagles of 1980. We pray that God will continue to bless him.”
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.