‘We’re set to revive inter-school sports culture through Loya Swim Meet’
Until recently, Nigeria was one of the strongest swimming nations in Africa, with her athletes among the best in their various events in continental championships. Such swimmers as Ngozi Monu, Musa Bakare, Gentle Ofoine, Tebesa Nemine, Samson Opuakpo, Eric Williams, Yemisi Yolomi, Obia Inyengiyika and Blessing Forcados, among others, had at different times raised Nigeria’s flag high in the international arena. But recently, the country has taken the back seat in the sport, which she is so endowed to excel.
However, there is a gradual revival of the swimming culture by some concerned enthusiasts using the school system as the pivot.
Time was when the bond among secondary schools in a particular town or city was defined, shaped and oiled by sports competitions. Then, football, basketball, track and field events were as important as academic-related activities. The government and the school management acknowledged the role of sports as a tool for moulding lives without competing with the academic aspirations of students.
Relationships that lasted for lifetime were started and nurtured at sports events, which served as symbols of unity, love and comradeship among youths of different socio-economic and religious backgrounds. Indeed, sociologists and allied professionals understood the nexus between these sporting events and national unity.
In recent years, however, there has been a drift from that culture of adopting sports as a tool for youth solidarity and peaceful coexistence as the Nigerian educational system suffers from neglect and chronic underfunding.
Today, there appears to be a resurgence of the cherished inter-school sports rivalry, which suffered neglect in the intervening years driven by the private sector.
As recent as last November, the third season of the Loya Milk Secondary School Swimming Competition took place in four key cities across the country – Abuja, Ibadan, Lagos and Port Harcourt. The story of the event tagged, Loya Swim Meet, is symbolic of the sustainability required to demonstrate the unique value of sports in connecting people of different creeds and interests.
The competition started in 2016 with 10 secondary schools in Lagos, but a year later, the class and glamour that accompanied the event was not only repeated, but it was also extended to another city, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
Season Three raised the initiative a notch higher, bringing 40 elite schools together in the four locations to compete for fame and fortune.
From the idea of giving secondary school students an opportunity to socialise and have fun, Loya Swim Meet is becoming the scouting platform for national swimming administrators.
For instance, the Abuja event had in attendance officials of the Nigeria Aquatics Federation, who not only came to watch the competitors, but also to source for young people whose talents could be harnessed for national honour in the nearest future.
One of such officials was the Secretary General of the Federation, Sani Mohammed, who spoke glowingly of the performances of the contestants, promising to work with Loya Milk to identify and nurture many more talents.
He enthused: “Loya Milk has taken the responsibility of identifying and showcasing great talents. There are a number of such talents, we have penned down their names and we are going to groom them.
“I appreciate Loya Milk from Promasidor Nigeria Limited, for their commitment and I think other companies should be involved in similar sporting endeavours. Henceforth, we will involve the brand in our programmes, we will organise competitions they can sponsor and we will be doing some routine marketing in partnership with the brand.”
Acknowledging the rise of Nigerian swimmers at international competitions in recent times, Mohammed also said he had identified five students at the Abuja competition whose names he would present to the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development for follow-up and possible inclusion in the Nigerian team for subsequent international swimming events.
The Abuja event, which was hosted by the American International School, drew participation from among Nigerians and foreigners, ranging from diplomats to investors and many of the guests were amazed at the hidden treasures in swimming for the country and wished more corporate organisations follow the footsteps of Promasidor Nigeria Limited.
They noted that Promasidor has created a template that could be adopted to reinvigorate healthy extra-curricular competitions among the youth, through its social investment initiative.
“I am surprised at the superb performances by the kids. I never knew Nigerians are these talented in swimming sport. This event is an eye-opener and I hope relevant government agencies pay attention to the career tracks of the kids. They will do much better if they are given proper coaching,” noted Roselyn Holton, an Abuja-based fitness consultant.
The Lagos leg was not less spectacular. Whereas the Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt competitions were uniquely classy, Lagos passed for what sports commentators described as a perfect outing, in strict technical terms. The event recorded a perfect completion rate – a feat, which officials termed a signal of the enormous potential of Nigeria in the sport.
All the participants in the six-event competition, hosted by Children’s International School, Lekki, completed the events without receiving any assistance from lifeguards. Even at the level of professional swimming competition, that achievement is something to brag with.
David Oyekan, a swimmer and coach at Meadow Hall School, acknowledged that the high level of professionalism and speed exhibited by the contestants was rare among amateurs of their age. He also noted that they would do much better if given adequate attention and more training time.
In Rivers State, Season Three was remarkable for the number of participants with some of the events featuring as many as five heats. Officials said that many more schools were ready to take part in subsequent editions.
Perhaps, the soaring interest in the competition is best explained by Marketing Manager of Promasidor Nigeria, Mr. Abiodun Ayodeji. “In the first season, we were pleading with schools to register. But today, schools compete to put in for the competition,” Ayodeji said.
The company is not gazing at its navel in the face of overwhelming interest in the competition. Ayodeji said that cities with compelling interest could be given the opportunity to have “more than one meet” in the future to enable more schools to participate in the competition.
“We will consider various hosting options as we look forward to season four of Loya Swim Meet,” Ayodeji assured.
Lagos may have inadvertently created a dual competition. So far, it is the only city where two schools – Children’s International and Grange Schools – have hosted the contest, which places premium on near-perfect logistics, the safety of the kids and world-standard facilities in consonance with Loya Milk brand essence.
Explaining his company’s interest in swimming, Ayodeji said: “Swimming resonates with Loya Milk’s unique brand identity. Loya’s unique HiCal fortification makes it the choice milk for individuals who desire to live healthy.
“At Promasidor Nigeria, we are convinced that inter-school competition is key to achieving our national sports objective. Through the Loya Swim Meet, we are playing a lead role in the quest to discover young talents in swimming.”
Although it is perhaps too late to start thinking of winning laurels at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, officials of the Aquatic Federation believe that with the sustained competition and clinics supported by Loya Milk, Nigeria would be ready to compete successfully at the 2024 Games.
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