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‘Gains, challenges of staging marathon races in Nigeria’

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Athletes battling for various cash prizes at the 2019 Access Bank/Lagos City Marathon. All is set for the road races in Abeokuta and Remo in Ogun State Photo: Ayodele Adeniran

• Governor Abiodun Will Use Sports To Turn Ogun State Around, Says Olopade
Former Commissioner for Sports in Ogun State, Bukola Olopade is known for his passion for marathon races. After organising four editions of the 42 km Access Bank/Lagos City Marathon, which currently ranks among the best marathon races in the world, Olopade has spread his tentacles to other cities, with two major events set to hold later this year in Abeokuta and Remo, in Ogun State.

However, Olopade, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Nilayo Sports Management Limited, says organizing marathon races in Nigeria comes with its huge challenges.

Speaking with The Guardian in Lagos, Olopade stated that the biggest hurdle encountered by organisers in staging marathon races in the country was the challenge of ‘runners education.’

“Road races bring good health, and it tends to create an atmosphere and lifestyle that changes the way we think about our food, our body and our metabolism. But the challenge itself is on the physical running. A lot of people don’t understand the practices that they need to go through before commencing a marathon race. So many of them get tired midway and want to jump on the bus to help them to the finish area.

“The other aspect is that they think once they run, they must get a medal, when obviously there is a timeline that if you don’t get to the finish line before it (the timeline), you shouldn’t be entitled to a medal. The medals are not for everybody who runs the race. They are only on merit for those who cross the line before the timeline. We are struggling with that.

“I just signed a contract with 7up bottling company this morning for Remo race that is coming on soon. One of the things they (7up) hammered on was the issue of runners’ education. With the media helping us to disseminate information on how runners should behave, hopefully, they will get over that.

“The second challenge obviously would be on how we approach our media friends. I am always the first to admit that we fail our media brothers and sisters always. So, from this year on, things will change for the better in all our races. We want to use the Abeokuta and Remo races to practice how we can improve on our relationship with our media people because the truth is nobody can sell any sport without the media. And nobody can show the world what we are doing without the media. We have failed them in the last four years, which we admit. The challenge is for us to see were we put the media box, were the journalists are to sit and send out messages, and to ensure that there is Wifi working. Also, we have to ensure that there are television for them to watch the race while it is going on. I think for the Lagos marathon, we are actually going to put the media next to the TV Right station box in front of the finish area rather than the back area that we have always sent them. It is amazing how the media have been kind to us. We cannot underestimate the fact that it is a challenge. So we are looking at correcting that,” he stated.

Continuing, Olopade, whose tenure as Ogun Sports Commissioner saw the state hosting a FIFA U-20 World Cup event, said: “Security has always been wonderful, and I must thank the likes of Commodore Omatsheye Nesiama for the way and manner he has handled the races.
“Obviously, the challenge of getting more sponsors will always be there. But we are also very grateful because in Abeokuta, in less than four months, we were able to get six sponsors. But we believe more can be done,” he stated.
Olopade revealed the plans for the three marathon races, including the 2020 edition of the Access bank/Lagos City Marathon. “Our flag off sign post will always be the Access bank/Lagos City Marathon, which comes up on February 8, 2020.
“On November 3 this year, we will be flagging off the JAC Motors Abeokuta 10km race, and on December 7, we will be flagging off what promises to be an exciting race, the first ultra race African Championship in 35 years to be hosted in Remo. It is something that we intend to sustain in the next five years or more, but the aspect that concerns Nigerians and the people of Remo is the fact that there will be a 5km for all comers. The Remo race is being sponsored by Value Jet Airlines, a new airline owned by Kunle Soname (major sponsor of the race). The Airline will start operation very soon.”

According to him, the registration portal opened in Abeokuta about six weeks ago and “under three weeks, we were already in a panic situation because we never expected that almost three thousand runners would register within a short period. As we speak, we have over 4,800 registered runners for Abeokuta. The people have really shocked me but we have also discovered that there are a lot of people registering from every part of Nigeria.

“Almost 60 percent of them are from Ogun State, while 40 percent are from outside. We also have international runners. Ten male and 10 female label runners are coming from almost eight countries. For me, it is homeboy going back home to do something in his own domain.

“This is coming under the leadership of my very good senior, Dr. Prince Dapo Abiodun, a man I describe to be the best governor in the history of Ogun State, going by the way he articulates things and how he has carefully done things. He has assured us 100 percent support from the government on the two races. He even asked me to get the full measurement for a full marathon. We are excited to be working with Ogun State government under his leadership.

“Governor Abiodun is a seasoned entrepreneur, very successful one at that. But more importantly, a lot of people tend to forget that he is a politician who has been out there since the days of Sani Abacha. He won election as the youngest senatorial candidate. He is an experienced politician. So I feel strongly that with the way he has started to do his sports commission, talking to people on how sports administration can develop Ogun State, I am confident that he is going to do a lot to support sports,” Olopade stated.

Male and female winners in the Abeokuta race will pocket $5, 000 each, $3, 000 for second position and $1, 000 for the third position.

“But we also have prizes for the Nigerian winners: N1 million for male and female winners, N750, 000 for the second and N500, 000 for the third winner,” he stated.


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