By Onochie Anibeze
What has gone wrong with Nigeria? Yes, I would like to come and share our success story with you in Nigeria. When I was competing Nigeria was at the same level with Jamaica. But I don’t know why you have gone down. Yes, I’ll come to Nigeria.”
These were the words of track and field icon, Bertland Cameron when I contacted him for a sports summit in Nigeria.
The contact had been made during the London Olympic Games after Governor Emmanuel Udughan called to show concern over sports in Nigeria. He had actually called to encourage Blessing Okagbare and he asked that the phone be given to me.
When he spoke you couldn’t mistake his passion for sports. Uduaghan was deeply sad Nigeria couldn’t win any medal at the London Olympics and he immediately set out to give a helping hand with a sports summit and ensure the implementation of its report.
And when Bertland Cameron agreed to visit Africa for the first time I was elated that a former world champion was coming to Nigeria. And when he spoke at the Delta Sports Summit, the audience was spellbound.
His delivery was superb and the points very educative. He read some points from the paper he was presenting but in most cases he spoke from his heart.
He was so emotional and the audience keyed in too. His delivery was moving and awed the audience.
“I was almost in tears when Bertland was speaking,” Uduaghan said as he walked out of the hall. He spent the whole day at the summit and even participated in the Study Group Sessions. It only takes some one with passion for sports to confess this.
Cameron went as far back as 1948 when Arthur Wint won gold in the London Olympics in the 400m and silver in the 800m. In the same year Herbet Mckinley won silver in the 800m.
The winning spell continued at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki with Jamaica winning gold in the 4x400m relay, Wint winning silver in the in 800m and Mckinley silver in 100m. Lennox Miller won medals in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics.
Donald Quarry won four Olympic medals including gold in 200m at the Montreal Olympics and in 1976 where he also won silver in the 100m. Marlene Ottey won 13 Olympic and World Championship medals.
Bertland himself won gold in the World Championship in Helsinki in 1983 and silver in the 4x400m relay at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
The winning spell continued and the interesting point Cameron was making was that in Jamaica pupils are thought about their heroes and heroines right from the times of McKinley in 1948 to date. So kids in school have role models
and the tradition and culture of athletics have stuck with them. This inspires. Cameron told Nigerians that they could make use of the facilities in Europe and America but warned that “America will not train you to become Olympic champions,” insisting that “you have to do it yourself.”
Before he climbed stage, he told me that Blessing Okagbare was an Olympic medal potential who was not well guided before the London Games. She burnt out before the games.
“American coaches and agents are more interested in the money-spinning meets than the Olympics and they will not make you Olympic champions,” Cameron told me and repeated same on stage.
He emphasized on youth development and insisted that Nigeria would have to develop their coaches and athletes, citing practical examples where such helped Jamaica.“I have met a couple of Nigerian former athletes and they are still in America. They complain about everything back home but you cannot fight from outside. You have to go back home and join them to build your country. I know that it could be tough but America will not give you gold. We reasoned the same way Nigerians are probably doing now but you never give up in sports, he told me after.”
Cameron was exceptional when he delivered his paper. “We are a country of 2.5m and Nigeria with over 150 million people and all the potentials you have, we in Jamaica should be looking up to you and not you looking up to us.”
Ovation followed. Cameron gave an insight into the Boys and Girls School Competition in Jamaica and said that to Jamaicans it could it was more than the Olympic show.
“The prime minister, all the top government officials and entire Jamaicans don’t miss this competition among schools. Tickets are sold out days before each event and we are talking about secondary school competition. The best athletes in Jamaica first compete at this level.
There are sponsors at different levels and we have data base for athletes from ages 5, 7, 10 12, 16 etc and you know where they are and what they are doing at any time.” All the points Cameron made were applauded. And for the sake of space I may not be able to produce them here. But he
was practical and tremendous. Delta State and Nigeria will be richer if they implement his recommendations. It was equally so for Rogger Barrow, the coach who led South Africa to win Olympic gold medal at the London Olympics.
He delivered paper on medal prospects of Aquatic Sports in Nigeria and if I got Dr. Emmanuel Uduagban right Rowing could be their contribution to Nigerian sports. Delta State wants to develop aquatic sports, taking into consideration the aquatic life in the country.
Uduaghan mentioned track and field and Rowing as specific sports that Delta could turn around in Nigeria. Barrow told this reporter how he accomplished the gold medal in the London Olympics and Amaju Pinnci, the Executive Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission wants Delta to adopt his ways and explore the possibility of Delta State producing the first medal hopefuls in Rowing.
The summit was a huge success and Dr. Udughan promised to provide the political weight that could see Delta implementing the report and winning laurels for Nigeria in sports. The federal government can as well key into this.
Adokiye Amiesimaka, Paul Bassey, Ikeddy Isiguzo, Ejiro Omonode were among those who presented papers. Tony Urohobo, Henry Amike, Yusuf Ali, Gabriel Okon, Mary Onyali, Brown Ebewele, Seigha Porbeni, Davidson Owunmi, Austin Popo were among the former star athletes who attended and contributed in various sessions.
The media had the likes of Larry Izamoje, Mumuni Alao, Kunle Solaja, Ade Ojeikere, Tony Ubani, Chris Opara, Duro Ikhazuegbe, Callistus Ebare etc.It was a complete Delta affair which other states and even the National Sports Commission could be free to adopt if necessary.
I will keep you posted with the report and even my own paper which I could not present but which I have submitted for study and possible implementation. I was very busy with the organization and I’m happy many have commended it and called it a huge success.