Monday, 2nd October 2023

Sports and the coronavirus lockdown

By Segun Odegbami
28 March 2020   |   3:18 am
Were the English Premier League, or the La Liga, or even the Olympic Games to be on somewhere in the world, staying at home for two weeks during this most challenging period in human history

Were the English Premier League, or the La Liga, or even the Olympic Games to be on somewhere in the world, staying at home for two weeks during this most challenging period in human history, to wear off the destructive power of coronavirus would have been more tolerable for a chunk of the world. The lockdown all over the world has become an imperative without which the health war may not be won.

Sports are a very powerful weapon. That’s why the Olympic games were conceived and have sustained as the only human social activity that has remained constant to its grand objective of global peace, the unification of all people, and testing and extending the frontiers of physical and mental human capacity. Sports engage the public, participants, followers, and financial beneficiaries alike.

That’s why one of the last and most difficult decisions to be taken globally, even as the Coronavirus pandemic held the world in its lethal grip, was that of suspending the Olympic games that should have started this summer in Tokyo, Japan.

The Japanese did everything humanly possible to convince the world that Japan would be safe during the period, even though all evidence proves to the contrary, but the gravity of this pandemic, an uncharted territory in science and medicine, is too serious a matter to be decided on sentiments and narrow interests. It is an existential threat to the human race, every inch of it, from village to village, in all corners of the Earth, without exception! The disease is global, so also must the response be.

That’s why it is difficult for me up till now to understand and stomach why some persons took the suspension of the Nigerian National Sports Festival, over a week ago, very poorly and personal, and a few actually ‘descended’ on me, both privately and publicly on social media, for being the early advocate of its suspension when only one case of the virus had been reported in Nigeria, and the festival would have gone on.

Athletes preparing for Edo 2020 National Sports Festival before it was postponed, following the outbreak of coronavirus

It is also baffling that some health ‘experts’ (including a professor friend) had remained defiant that the ‘expertise’ with which the Ebola crisis was successfully defeated and controlled in Nigeria some years ago, was still available to deploy against Covid -19, and were prevaricating about suspending a festival that would have brought together over 10,000 people from all over the country for 10 to 12 days, dispersed them again to all the nooks and crannies of the country by this weekend, and become a time bomb from which Nigeria might never recover from, knowing what is unfolding now about the ravaging power of the coronavirus!

In short, the National Sports Festival would have been on during this period.

Can anyone imagine what the reaction of the rest of the world would have been to such a huge assembly in a country that clearly does not have the existing health infrastructure, systems in place and facilities to handle a major challenge that is confounding even the best medical and health care experts and systems in the world?

Nigeria would have been not just a laughing stock but ostracized by the rest of the world.

The world would have been wondering if we had any sense at all.

That’s what some people, including close friends and associates, castigated me for, for raising the matter because they are involved in its organization, or for not sharing my thoughts with them first, and for truncating what would have been of benefit to the country, Edo State and probably even themselves. Really, would it have been of benefit to anyone?

I am so happy now that I took my stand, and if it helped in any way to halt the festival, I am even more glad and proud. Without my voice, the festival would finally have been called off at any rate, even if it had started, particularly when the effects of the virus’s attack have now been brought home to us in several unfolding devastating incidences that have brought up a lock down of several cities. More will still follow.

With what we now know about the virus and its effect on the global community, my prayer is that ‘this moment of man’s greatest challenge, becomes the moment of his greatest triumph’. We must convert the lessons from this horror into stepping stones for changing the world in the wake of our arrogant destruction of it.

This day, Day one into a new national experience starting from the partial lockdown of the city of Lagos (even though I am in Abeokuta as I write this) I am drawing strength and inspiration from the words of wisdom of one of the ancient sages in preparation for the difficult times that surely lie ahead as we enter a unique time in history when a man shall compulsorily become humble, will set aside vanity and arrogance, surrender his individual freedom to choose his action, join hands with every other human being in the world, and align with nature’s cleansing process that is ongoing now, in my common-sense belief, through a ‘disaster’ we must not curse.

Those words resonate so well now – ‘Behold the darkness and do not curse it, for underneath it is a hidden treasure’.

I was trying to discover the treasures in the coronavirus pandemic when more bad news came from London of the shocking demise of my friend, Akeem Mustapha, owner of Majestic, a restaurant and a hangout place in Brixton, South East London. He was infected with the dreaded disease and did not survive it even in a country that I have always touted as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

The news, as well as others, of events happening to several high ranking persons in Nigeria, (most of them importing the virus from abroad) having been tested and found to be positive to the virus and stealthily penetrating the fabric of Nigerian society without discrimination and with utter disregard for status, religion, tribe, are startling and worrisome.

In Akeem’s case, he was rushed into intensive care when his situation deteriorated and his family had to call for an ambulance. That was the last time the rest of the family would see him, because they too had to be quarantined immediately it was found that he had been infected by the Coronavirus. They remain in isolation till now, unable to say a proper good bye to the man who had been an exceptional father to the wonderful children and a great wife that I know.

I am praying for the rest of his family as well as all those that may have gone to visit their sick friend at home without realising that what he had was the most contagious disease ever known to man. That entire household remains devastated and still in danger.

Akeem Mustapha’s death brings the Coronavirus situation close to home for me.

Rather than get angry with a few friends that raised their voices against me both privately and publicly (in a few cases) when I raised the alarm that a gathering of 11,000 persons from different parts of Nigeria to Benin City for a sports festival at this particular period in the world would tantamount to inviting a catastrophe, I have chosen to shrug off their unkind words (that still hurt by the way) and focus on what I was convinced was the best decision to take with the information available to everyone on the coronavirus. Large gatherings are the perfect catalyst for catastrophe.

Think of it. Had the national festival held, we would be right in the middle of it now.

Can you imagine what the scenario would look like?

The entire world would think we are a country of lunatics.

We would by now be scrambling to send the thousands of athletes and officials back to their different bases, across 36 States, the FCT and even abroad armed with ‘petrol’ to pour on a small fire!

Thank God, I did not listen to narrower sentiments.

As this lockdown begins, I am grateful to the Creator of the universe for making me listen to my head, and for siding with the greater interest of humanity. As Nigeria joins in the attempt to stop this rampaging virus, it is the responsibility of every single person to play a part in the global effort. The irresponsibility of one person can break the chain of the route to success.

So, from person to person, community to community, village to village, country to country, every living being is a target of the virus unless they join in doing something.

For now, what can be done are simple enough – stay at home, keep a safe distance from all others, maintain a high level of hygiene, and follow the directives of medical and health officials working tirelessly and sacrificing their lives so that all of us can live.