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Sports, politics, Professor Wole Soyinka, George Weah and Ogun State

By Segun Odegbami
26 May 2018   |   2:49 am
The title of this piece is not designed to mislead or confuse. It is the best way I am able to capture in a few words the many different thoughts and persons connected to one another in my mind.

Liberian President George Weah attends the opening of the Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government during the 30th annual African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 28, 2018. SIMON MAINA / AFP

The title of this piece is not designed to mislead or confuse. It is the best way I am able to capture in a few words the many different thoughts and persons connected to one another in my mind.Everyone knows that Professor Wole Soyinka has never demonstrated any special love or affinity for sport even though, I believe, he may appreciate its significance as a social engineering tool.

From time to time, however, he lends his respected voice to serious national discourse that have political implications and effects. I do not know if he knows George Weah, but I believe he too must have been pleasantly amazed at how the young man road on the back of the power of sport to become his country’s President.

Professor Wole Soyinka, a global literary giant and ambassador, will, of course, one day soon return to his home located in the woods in Kemta, Abeokuta, in Ogun State. So, that’s where he will finally put up his feet in retirement, and start to enjoy and celebrate the rewards of his immense contributions to the global pool of knowledge.

So, kindly read this to the end to understand why the connection between the great man, politics, sports and Ogun State, and why I believe he still has one last performance to put together before his retirement. As he settles down in Ogun State, I can imagine that one of the several things that will cross his mind will be the place of his own State in the world today.

Would he think that as a people, we (I am from the State too) have done well? Would he think that the Yoruba have presented the best versions of what they are capable of achieving to the world? What would he be thinking about the future of Ogun State, the Yoruba, Nigeria and indeed, the Black race, in that order? Former great African leaders, mostly at Independence around the 1960s, all had a grand vision beyond their immediate individual countries, of the African continent and the Black race, and how the future of independent African countries would depend on how Africa performed politically on behalf of the entire Black race.

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and, much later, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, both specially espoused that Africa’s future was hinged to the future of Nigeria, the most populous and the wealthiest Black community in the world in terms of human capacity development, education, mineral resources and a deep and rich historical past and a culture of intrinsic values embedded in the DNA of the people!

So, Professor Wole Soyinka is of that genre. His world view is beyond the narrow confines of his village or town, or even country, but extends to the global frontiers of knowledge and development for the Black race and Africans. This love ‘letter’ is for him to take a moment to read my humble thoughts.

First, a generalization.
In governance, we cannot have proper development without the appropriate policies to drive it. There cannot, also, be appropriate policies without the politics to drive them. So, development and politics go together hand in hand!.It is a damning realization that puts those of us in sports firmly on a collision or a collaborative course with politics. For too long we did not get involved in politics and our world suffered with all the power it has to impact society and effect positive development and genuine change.

No matter our (in sport) dream for Nigeria – how we can use sport to drive national development, national re-orientation of Nigerians, youth engagement and empowerment, job creation opportunities, rapid and massive national infrastructural development, wellbeing and health of the citizenry, business, education, the economy, welfare of the people, leadership, nationalism and patriotism, culture, ethics, peace, friendships, healthy competitiveness, the winning attitudes, and so on and so forth – sport will remain a dormant and wasting force without the instrument of politics to drive it.

This was what George Opong Weah saw before he decided to wager his fame, his achievements in sports, his integrity as a social worker in his country, his vision of a great Liberia, against the usual entrenched political credentials of wealth, who-you-know, political godfathers, manipulation of results, buying of votes, power sharing, and empty promises to challenge for political power and the highest political office in his country.

It was an audacious challenge that has opened a new vista in a continent littered with the failures of political leaders with only a handful of exceptions in recent times in Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana! Without political power and political will, George Weah’s dream of a better Liberia, a country liberated from poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, jobless youths, mental slavery, corruption, poor infrastructure, and dependence on foreign aid, will remain a mirage.He had to use the power of sport to gain access into the political arena, and somehow to snatch the essential political power that can effect the change he envisioned for his country.

It was an incredible achievement that must have opened a few eyes in the world of politics.When you combine the vision of a person grounded in the sports philosophy (or the arts) with the opportunities that exist in the global sports industry, and drive both with the passion, energy, discipline, dedication, focus, determination, fighting spirit, patriotism, nationalism, and never-say-die attitude common in sport, you will be unleashing a new and potent force that can overturn the old order of things and create a new world. It will obliterate all the differences and obstacles trumpeted and used by today’s politicians to isolate the greater number of people who do not participate in the political games using shortsighted divide-and-rule tactics. These are the games that produce leaders that determine their eventual fate who squander the opportunities and resources of the State in mundane and petty things that never alter the fortune of the majority of the citizenry.

In sports, success is achieved through self-belief, perseverance, endless training with failed attempts, hard work, a clear and simple vision, a little bit of luck and no consideration for a person’s social status, creed, religion, tribe or clan.

Sports persons (and artists) are a special breed driven by the will-to-win, the fighting spirit to conquer adversity, the determination to win, the competitive edge needed to take on some of life’s most intractable problems and to enjoy the ride of the adventure, win or lose!
George Opong Weah has opened that new channel as well as a new chapter capable of effecting a fundamental paradigm shift in politics, particularly in Africa.

Now, my dear Professor, having explained the power and potentials of sports in politics, I want to remind you that sport is but a small part of a much bigger entertainment industry that includes the arts, film, music, leisure, hospitality, culture, tourism, drama, dance and theatre. This industry is, without question today, the largest in the world contributing immeasurably to the global economy, and it is still growing.

This sector of humanity is incidentally the forte of the Black person on earth. It provides the Black person the greatest, fastest and easiest opportunities to make a unique impact in the world. If he deploys it well, it could be an effective tool in the struggle for true emancipation from mental and physical slavery, from racial discrimination, from enslavement to poverty, abuse, hunger, segregation, and inferiority complex.

This is the Black person’s greatest weapon to fight back and to create a new world where he will be respected, rewarded and regarded as equal to any other person on earth, be they White, or Brown, or any other colour.

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