NOA seek ways to ensure ‘labours of heroes past are not in vain’
It was the biggest gathering of Nigerian champions since the COJA 2003 African Games in Abuja. But while the 2003 gathering was of athletes and coaches, who came to compete for the country or former stars there to lend their expertise to Nigeria’s quest to emerge over all winners of the Games, last week’s gathering was of retired stars, who felt the time was ripe to preach their case against the continued neglect of the wellbeing of ‘Our heroes past.’ They also came togther to proffer solutions to the malaise in Nigerian sports and chart a path for development.
Present at the event were Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) president, Habu Gumel, former tennis champion, Professor Sadiq Abdullahi, who flew in from the United States, former D’Tigress captain, Mfon Udoka, former international athlete, Pat Itanyi, Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games stars, Lawrence Adegbeingbe and Samson Oyeledun, as well as Atlanta 1996 Olympics football gold medallists, Victor Ikpeba and Emmanuel Babayaro.
Also present at the event held at the Nigeria Airforce Force (NAF) Conference Centre and Suites, Abuja, were director general of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Mr Peter Nelson, who represented Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, multiple Olympics medallists, Falilat Ogunkoya and Fatima Yusuf-Olukoju, former captain of the national football team, Segun Odegbami and Gloria Obajimi, who were both at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, as well as captain of Team Nigeria’s 1980 contingent, Hammed Adio.
With NOA President, Olumide Oyedeji, as chairman, and Professor Sadiq Abdullahi as co-chairman, the gathereing was much more than an awards night. It also took guests back to the glory days of Nigerian sports through visuals with a view to finding what has gone wrong with the country’s sports and the solution(s).
Explaining the reason for the Banquet/Awards, NOA President, Olumide Oyedeji, said the Olympians were gathered to ensure that truly the labours of past heroes do not go in vain.
“It is not easy to be an Olympian. We want to plead with legislators and other government officials to look into the welfare of Olympians, who went through injuries and pains in the service of the country.
“If you used your youthful years to serve your country, when will your country serve you? We do not ask that everything be given to us, but we just want opportunities for these heroes.
“We decided to celebrate our heroes who have been neglected for long. Whenever they stepped into the arena, they stood for the national anthem and national pledge. Without these athletes or Olympians, there will be no job for any coach or administrator.
“We want a country that protects abused and neglected athletes. We, therefore, urge our lawmakers to enact laws that will protect current and retired athletes. Government has the power to make Nigeria a better place for athletes. That is how we can maximise the talents and patriotism of these athletes.”
Olumide urged athletes billed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to be focused and believe they can excel in Japan if they desired success in the competition.
The former national team basketball captain, who announced scholarship awards to 10 students of African International School, Abuja, with exceptional talents, added that moving forward, the NOA would delve into talent mentoring to ensure that gifted young Nigerian children get the tutelage they need to make the best use of their talents.
Earlier, the co-chairman of the event, Prof. Sadiq Abdullahi, who explained that the association’s leadership was committed to rebuilding and repositioning NOA to respond to local, national and global exigencies, acknowledged that Nigerian sports is current at crossroads.
He added, however, that the country would become great again if all the stakeholders put national interest ahead of other considerations.
“The possibilities and potential are endless. The goals and objectives of the NOA are work in progress. With additional input, they will be refined and revised to meet the needs of all Nigeria Olympians.
“We will support, motivate and encouraging Olympians to take leadership roles in Nigerian sports, create their own quota, share their knowledge and wealth of experience to impact and change the narrative of Nigerian sports positively.”
Also speaking at the event, Director General of the National Council of Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe, described the Olympians as the greatest asset that have helped the country in several ways.
According to Runsewe, “After the Civil War in 1970, our leaders chose two items, sports and culture, to unify the country.
“Unfortunately, the country neglect these athletes on their retirement from active service. No country excels with this sort of attitude to its heroes.”
Runsewe urged the NOA to list the names of retired international athletes and their states of origin, saying he would approach their state governors to accord them their right position in the society.
“I will work with the National Assembly to set up a programme for them. Now that we have a platform to celebrate our heroes, we will ensure they get their dues from the country.”
Some of the past and present athletes took time to relate their experience while representing Nigeria at international events and the lessons the country could learn from sport.
Olufunke Oshonaike, who is the only African woman to have qualified for seven Olympic Games and the only lady in table tennis to achieve that feat in the world, said sport teaches some life lessons that create unity among athletes.
“I wish Nigeria would be like the Olympic Games village, where there is no tribe, colour or creed. In the Games Village, we are all siblings with no discrimination.”
Corroborating Oshonaike’s assertions, two members of the country’s gold medal winning football team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, U.S., Victor Ikpeba and Emmanuel Babayaro, said sport makes athletes to think of the community needs first, adding that athletes forget their ethnicity, religion and other differences when they enter the pitch.
Babayaro recalled his experience at the Atlanta Olympics, where the “players contributed money to pay the team’s bills when there was no money from the government.
“Some of the players became drivers of the vehicles we chartered to convey us to our training sessions.
“We fought ourselves and disagreed over many issues, but once we wore the Nigerian colours, we became different people. We had unity of purpose and thought only of what we could do to win our matches.”
The highlight of the event was the presentation of awards to athletes that represenated Nigeria at the Olympics from 1952 to 1972. There were also awards for some other athletes drawn from athletics and football. The recipients include Hammed Adio, who featured in the 100 metres and 200 metres at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow; Segun Odegbami, who was the captain of the football team to the same Olympics; and Gloria Obajimi, who featured in the women 4×400 metres relay.