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Since govt has failed us . . .

By Onochie Anibeze
Hi Onochie,
I have just finished reading your piece on the state of Nigerian tennis. Don’t worry. Just like I have promised Adekunle Salami of the Punch, the world should watch out for my daughters in years to come. God helping us, they will be the new Williams sisters to emerge from Africa. That, we owe Nigeria.

The above was one of the responses I received on my column of July 10, 2009.  It touched me in many ways because of what I have always known about individual sports like tennis.  I promised to return to this mail on a later date.

The determination of the writer to produce world class athletes in his daughters and  his pledge to do it for Nigeria also impressed so much. I wish the writer added his name to his response so that I could address him by his name.  I wish to let him know that if he produces world class athletes in the mould of the Williams sisters, Nigeria will enjoy great mention in the media but he will benefit the most.

He will be doing good to his family and not necessarily Nigeria. He will have so much money to manage, so much fame to air, so much goodwill from government, corporate bodies and individuals and so much jollies and goodies to celebrate life.

If he produces top athletes, he will have enough to live in riches. So, my friend, don’t look back. Invest in your children especially if they have the talent. Don’t depend on Nigeria. If you do, they will pull you back and frustrate you.

This is the message I want to send to millions of parents in Nigeria. The response from 08033898873 influenced this column and I want to thank the writer for compelling the message I am sharing with you today. I would like the writer to read the stories of the said Williams sisters, Mary Pearce, the Jennifer Capriatti, Martina Hingis and a few others.

I have restricted the examples to girls because my reader referred to his daughters. The experience in question is equally so with most men who have excelled in the game of tennis.  Most of them did it alone with their parents as their only backers at the initial stage.  There are stories of parents selling even their houses to pay for their wards to pass through academies like Nick Bolletieri.

There are stories of parents who suffered, toiled to invest in the sports careers of their children. They are always better for it. It is usually tough just like it was for the Williams sisters. How they toiled with their parents to get to where they are today is no longer news. The news now  is on the millions of money they are making winning tournaments.

Richard Williams and his now estranged wife Orance,  who was pleasant in granting me interview at the Sydney Olympics,  were not thinking of America at the time they were sweating, making sacrifices to nurture the talents of their children.  They are now reaping what they sowed.

Tennis is not football.  It is no team sport which enjoys better sponsorship from governments, companies and other corporate sponsors. I’ll explain.

The kids at the football academy in Kwara, the brain of Kojo Williams, pay nothing for the training they are receiving. Kwara State Government is taking the bills although they hope to recoup when they start selling players to Europe.

We have the Pepsi academy which has trained and developed many talents at minimal costs. In the developed football countries, the clubs have youth teams.

There are also academies here and there. How many of them run tennis programmes and churn out athletes the way they produce footballers? How many great tennis players are products of state programmes? There are great sports which do not enjoy corporate support from the basics but whose athletes turn out to be the stars of the world when they hit it big. Tennis is one.

The other is golf. The parents of athletes from these sports are their sponsors, sometimes coaches and  managers. It is usually so till they begin to hit banner headlines and the Nikes, Reeboks and other corporate world begin to scramble for their signatures. Endorsements follow and  the Ogbono Soup of their parents begin to get thicker.

I once read an interesting piece of how Jennifer Capriati would only ask her parents of chocolate and some soda any time she felt like have great times. She had started winning hundredths of thousands of dollars but was still a teenager who just knew how to win matches but never knew how much she was worth. Her parents nurtured her, not the state.

To some extent, it is so with track and field. But track and field athletes are better favoured in securing scholarships from U.S. universities.  Jamaicans also benefit immensely from this although their school system is now challenging the prowess of American universities.

But after competing at the NCAA what follows? Damola Oshiyemi, for example, has graduated and does no longer enjoy school scholarship unless she goes back for her masters. So who supports her now?

Nothing  comes from Nigeria or any individual and an athlete who could have blossomed into an international star ends up frustrated by lack of sponsors whom she would have paid back a million fold if she had the wherewithal to reach her best.

My plea to parents is, therefore, to invest in their children and help nurture their potentials not only in academics but also in sports. How many Nigerian parents can spend fortunes to lead their children through sports?

How many will have the courage to sell their houses to take their children to sports academies of repute? It is never in the place of government to do everything although ours is particularly bad because the enabling environments that governments provide in other places are even destroyed by our own governments.

It is government that has approved the erection of structures where sports facilities once stood.  Enugu, my state is one good example.

It is government that has destroyed sports in our schools. It is government that runs our sports ministries, installs people into sports federations especially the kind that you see at the Nigeria Football Federation. It is government, through corrupt practices of their officials, that has denied us sponsorship culture.

The corporate world which ponders venturing into sports gets scared that their investment may be misappropriated and the mileage envisaged will continue to elude them. They, therefore, stay away from sports even after declaring billions as profits.

The culture of corruption has eaten deep into everything in Nigeria and sports is suffering it badly from many fronts. Corruption places the wrong people in positions of sports administration, robs sports proper funding and also denies us the sponsorship culture. And at the centre of all these is government.

So, since our government has also failed us in all areas including sports, let’s us begin to do things our own way; let us begin to know that government will not assist our children to realize their sports potentials. Let’s take a cue from the tennis world and invest in our children for the good of mankind.  Nigerian parents can produce Usain Bolts, Tiger Woods, Federers, Williams sisters etc.

I hope and pray that my reader, the owner of telephone number 080338973, realizes his dreams so that we can have Williams sisters on our shores.
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