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How school sports aids athletics’ growth, the Kenya example

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Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike, who was one of the stars of the Nairobi 2021 World U20 Championships, is a product of United States of America’s school sports

Kenya’s dominance in athletics in Africa and at the world level has been attributed to the country’s stronghold in school sports. Unlike the situation in Nigeria, where school sports is promoted only on pages of newspapers, the syllabus in Kenya for teaching sports through physical training in schools (extracurricular activity) has produced several gold medallists at the Olympic Games, World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and the African Games.

Unlike in the past, when Kenyan athletes were known mainly for long-distance races, the situation seems to have changed.

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In the build-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games, a Kenyan athlete, Ferdinand Omanyala, made a big headline in Lagos, when he defeated Nigeria’s sprinter, Enoch Adegoke, and others to win the 100m event at the third MoC Grand Prix in 10.05 seconds. He also ran a new Kenyan National Record and Meet Record (MR) of 10.01 seconds at the same event.

And at the recently concluded World Junior Athletics Championships, Nairobi 2021, the host country, Kenya, was the focus of attraction for every athletics lover. The Kenyans were everywhere, dominating the track. In the end, Kenya topped the medals table with eight gold, one silver, and seven bronze medals.

According to Kioko Gatimu, a Kenyan volunteer, who attended to visitors at the Kasarani stadium, the country’s investment in school sport is paying off in athletics and other sports like rugby.

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“We have a very effective school sport system and it is helping our athletics and other sports like rugby,” Gatimu, a former long-distance runner told The Guardian on Day Four of competition at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi.

He hinted that schools in Kenya create room for physical training, which is part of their extracurricular activity that helps to marry education to sports.

This is a far cry from the current system in Nigeria, where primary and secondary schools offer nothing other than home assignments for children.

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Investigations by The Guardian have revealed that over 80 per cent of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria do not even have to play ground, not to talk of sporting equipment.

From Lagos to Oyo, Ondo to Edo, Delta, Rivers, Enugu, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Kano, Gombe, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the schools only talk about sports when it is time for inter-house sports.

“In most cases, our school children in Nigeria are busy doing only homework, home lessons, school lessons from the beginning of the session to the end,” Miss Temitope Olayinka told The Guardian in a telephone conversation during the week.

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Olayinka, a secondary school teacher in Lagos, breaks down the daily schedule for most children in Nigerian schools. “From 7:00am to 2:00pm is school period, 2:30pm to 4:00pm school lesson, 5:30pm to 6:30pm home lesson and 7pm to 8pm is school assignment. Tell me when a child will have the time for sporting activities?

“How do you expect our youths to do well in sporting activities? In most cases, our children attend nursery, primary and secondary schools in just one block of the building. No more playing fields for them. Some of them wake up by 6.00 a.m. to prepare for school and get back around 6.00 p.m. Until our government infuses other activities in our school system, the young generation will continue to look for jobs after 16 years of schooling in Nigeria.

“Look at what happened at the Tokyo Olympics. A country with a population of over 200 million people, celebrated just a single silver and one bronze medal. We saw how young Americans and Chinese were packing medals in cycling, swimming, gymnastics, and athletics.

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“All our children do in Nigeria is to learn mathematics, Biology, Physics, and English. Why can’t Nigeria learn from the school system in China and USA that will help us get so many medals at Olympics? If it is to increase the prize of fuel, we will compare Nigeria to other countries that pay higher for it.

The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Youths and Sports have to move fast to find a solution because, in a few years from now, it will be difficult for Nigeria to assemble youths for major competitions. The government has to find a way to make our youths busy at school by reviving our school sports system.

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“There should be a law prohibiting schools without space for sports facilities from operating in the country. If you don’t have the space, such school should pay those with sports facilities around its area to enable the children to display their God-given talent.”

It is not every child that will become a medical doctor, lawyer, and engineer at the end of the day. Those with sports talent may become even more famous in the field of athletics, football, basketball etc. Our young generation will continue to suffer this ‘no job issue’ until we learn to add other activities to the life of our children,” Olayinka stated.

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