Funmi Iyanda, on Sunday January 10th, 2021,discussed sports with a 12-time Paralympic Gold Medalist, Ahmed Koleosho, and Olympians and members of the Nigerian Olympic Committee, Chief Falilat Ogunkoya, and Enefiok Obong.
With a mostly young population and a youth bulge that is spoken about across the globe, Nigeria might be one of the leading countries in Sports. Not only in performing sports, but sports as an industry. An enterprise and driver of development. However, since the 90s, which were the glory days of sports, it would appear that this has not come to pass.
A documentary revealed the excellence and versatility of Nigerian athletes. The sports industry has been plagued by corruption, poor administration, poor policies, and more. This has led to a huge number of talents seeking opportunities in other countries. For sports development, one of the most important ingredients is the ability to spot talents from local communities and competitions, but with a lack of funding, sports centres and stadiums have become dilapidated. And there doesn’t seem to be any plans to build new facilities or fund grassroots training.
Funmi let us in on the fun fact that it was her dream to be a sports person, but she did not have the stamina or willpower to continue. So, she became a sports journalist but quit as it became painful to watch other people doing what she wanted to do.
Then, star-struck at being in the presence of Ahmed Koleosho, Funmi asked, “Where do you hang your medals?” In his humble manner. He replied, “In my room. I wake up, look at them, and hope to add more medals as time goes on.”
Ahmed told us his origin story, “I joined sports after graduating from the University of Lagos in 2010. I’d studied computer engineering. I stumbled on Para Table Tennis by accident. Afterwards, I asked where I could practice. I eventually went to the stadium and trained with one coach. He told me I was better than most people in the sport, and I should pursue it further. From there, I joined them for the National Sports Festival as an observer. The arena was challenging, but I liked the experience. From there, I decided.”
“But special sports has its challenges. The first is stigmatization. Accepting us as a major part of sports in the country is an enormous problem. And that has affected many things, especially sponsorship, setting up competitions for us, having access to facilities. It’s an enormous challenge for us. It costs me four or five times the amount to get facilities to train compared to my able-bodied counterparts.”
Then Funmi posed the question. “Why has no one who has played sports, run sports in Nigeria?”, to Olympians and members of the Nigerian Olympic Committee, Chief Falilat Ogunkoya, and Enefiok Obong.
Falilat’s simple answer was, “We have been cheated. They decide without us, but when something happens because the people deciding are unqualified, they come running to us. Put us there and see what we can do to change sports. We are going there from our hearts. It is what we love. It is what we do.”
According to Enefiok Obong, “Sports is run side by side with politics. But when you have sportspersons who are not politicians, it’s very difficult to get a slice of that. We won’t be entirely correct if we say that we have not had a sportsperson in power.
A few years ago, the Director-General of The National Sports Commission, Chief Patrick Ikeji, was once a footballer. Still, the country has not as at yet, taken sports with the seriousness that we need to bring a technocrat in or someone that cares to change things.”