To whom honour is due

To whom honour is due

As we all know, our national team put up a dismal performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics, winning just a single bronze medal, although this was one better than our performance in London in 2012. By contrast, our paralympic team won a total of 12 medals, eight of them gold, the majority of them in power lifting.

It was with this in mind that Surulere Now! visited the National Stadium to speak to some of the athletes. We were disturbed by the fact that they seem to have received very little publicity for their sterling performance, a performance all the more remarkable given the facilities – or lack thereof – as you can see from the pictures below.

Among our heroes was Bose Omolayo, who not only won gold with a lift of 138 kg but beat her own previous best as she set a new World Record.

Nor was she alone in achieving this singular feat. The team’s captain, Lucy Ejike, also set a new World Record in her own division in lifting 142 kg, thus fulfilling her promise to Barrister Solomon Dalung, the Minister of Youth and Sports, when he saw them off at Abuja:

I want to assure you that we will do our best. Whatever we special people do, we put in all of our effort, so we urge you not to panic. We thank you for getting us new wheelchairs and we are highly motivated as we ask you to watch out for us at the games.

Omolayo and Ejike were also joined by Paul Kehinde and Precious Orji, who also established new world records. Meanwhile, Roland Ezuruike and Ndidi Nwosu both clinched the Paralympic Record in their respective divisions. To round off this remarkable achievement, Latifat Tijani and Esther Onyema clinched gold, while Innocent Nnamdi settled for bronze.

Power lifting wasn’t the only triumph of the games. Gold medals – and World Records – were won in javelin (Flora Ugunwa) and shot putt (Lauretta Onye), while Eucharia Itiaze won a bronze in discus.

So why power lifting? The determination of the athletes aside, they were unanimous in agreeing that their magic ingredient was their mentor, Coach Feyisetan Are, who was recently named Coach of the Year 2016 at the fifth edition of the award ceremony held at the Eko Hotel on 2 December, where Kehinde Paul clinched the Sportsman of the Year.
This is well and good. It is right that they should be honoured at the highest level but for the fact that it began and ended there despite promises from the federal government According to Bose Omolayo:

After representing and winning medals for our country in Brazil, we came back to the country through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, only to be welcomed by our fans.

We were also officially received and hosted by the government after which we spent a night in one of the big hotels in Abuja before relocating to our individual stations.

And up till now, we have not heard or received any form of reward from the government and I don’t think our efforts should be overlooked.

I know the country is in recession, I am begging the government for the sake of the honour we brought to the country to appreciate us.

We are not asking for too much but an appreciation from the government will encourage us and the upcoming ones to be committed to sports development.

Most of us are bread winners and that is why we did our best for the country so that the government can compensate us to enable us to shoulder our responsibilities.

The athletes went through painstaking training under the supervision of our national coach, Feyisetan Are.

Her words were echoed by Coach Are himself:

What else can we ask other than for the government to reward these athletes well so as to stop them from begging?
What we achieved was by the grace of God and the teeth-gritted determination of the athletes. They gave their all to lift the image of the country. It is the turn of the country to honour them.

It was left to a state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, who donated N1 million and a plot of land to Lucy Ejike during a ceremony at Government House, where he lauded her achievement: ‘You have made us proud and we are all proud of you. This is our token of appreciation to you.’ He also gave her coach and nurse N500,000 each.

But not all governors are as interested in sports and it seems too arbitrary for the well-being of those who have done us proud should rest on what is essentially a private gesture. It is true that President Buhari received the athletes on their return and muttered something about assisting them but that is where it ended. Naturally, in this and all other areas, things are done differently abroad. Bose Omolayo spoke with wonder at how they were treated like ‘eggs’ when they attended the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and she was bemused by the Brazilian athlete who took silver to her gold in Rio and promptly burst into tears. When she asked her why, she was told that every gold medal winner (and this apart from breaking the World Record) got a house and a car as a matter of policy. It was not a favour, in other words, nor was it an act of charity, but simply recognition for the honour they had brought their country. But then Nigeria is notorious for not seeing the gold for the dross. Mediocrity always trumps achievement.

As it happens, Coach Feyisetan Are is also Technical Director of the Nigerian Amputee Football Federation. As it also happened, Surulere Now! was at the stadium on 5 December to watch the finals of the maiden national F5WC Five-A-Side tournament, which Coach Are described as ‘a dream come true.’

The tournament was supported by Peak milk and endorsed by the Nigeria Football Federation, and by the Lagos, Ogun, Kano and Kaduna Football associations.

The rules of the game are straightforward: five players aside plus the goalkeeper who has both legs but one arm. Each half lasts 20 minutes. There are kick-ins not throw-ins and the players are not allowed to use their crutches on the ball or the stump of their amputated leg. It looks awkward at first not only because one is so used to watching ‘normal’ football, as it were, but because the crutches seem like such an impediment to movement. As one might have expected, the players tend to fall a lot but it was thrilling nonetheless, as you can see from the pictures below.

Afterwards, Surulere Now! took the opportunity to mingle with the players. One in particular who stood out was Monday Williams, pictured here. In a strong field he seemed to be one of the strongest. He lost his leg when he was 12 years old following an untreated wound. A keen footballer with dreams of playing abroad, he thought his life was over until he discovered amputee football. He had since played in Liberia (2008), Ghana (2011) and Kenya (2013) and hopes to go and play professionally in Turkey, which is where a friend is now playing.

Coach Are himself was happy that the tournament took place at all, as he told the News Agency of Nigeria in a lengthy interview:

We are happy that we will play an exhibition match at the competition. This is one of our dreams for the federation.

Many people do not have the privilege to watch amputee football and it will be an eye-opener to many who have not seen the game.

With this exhibition, it will help to increase the interest of the public view which can support or fund the federation in terms of sponsorship.

The tournament followed years of neglect in which no games were played in the last three. According to Pius Asaba, a board member of the Amputee Football Federation for Africa:

It is inexcusable the way amputee football is being run; it is obvious that the personnel saddled with the responsibility of running the sport are not pulling their weight.
The situation is really affecting the footballers because they are not getting necessary encouragement required to enhance their skills and this is gradually killing the sport in the country.

The coaches and footballers are playing their part by engaging in regular training activities, yet at the end there is no competition to evaluate their development.

He said that the sport started as an association in 2000 and had a strong presence in six states: Abia, Anambra, Imo, Kwara, Lagos and Ogun, along with the Federal Capital Territory. Asaba further pointed out that players in the past had participated in local competitions and international tournaments in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya before their problem started: ‘When the body was active, lots of amputee footballers were discovered and some of them were outstanding and made the national team.’ He added that the World Amputee Football Federation, which is affiliated to FIFA, had banned NAFF due to its inability to pay the required annual affiliation fee for the past four years.

Whether things will improve remains a moot point. In April this year, Abibat Ladidi, President of Nigeria Amputee Football Federation, lamented the poor response of potential sponsors to the bodies’ proposals.

The situation of our sport is really pathetic because we have not been able to hold a single programme since this year even with activities lined out in our annual schedule.

Instead of depending on the Ministry of Youth and Sports for support, we set up a marketing committee to market the sport so as to attract sponsorship.

Unfortunately, promises from some companies and individuals are not forthcoming, hence, affecting our activities.

She added: We have widened the scope of our sponsorship drive to NGOs and religious organisations; we want to bring positive change to amputee football.

We will appreciate any support to execute our lined up programmes and purchase crutches, gift items and jersey.

: Amputee football in Turkey

There are 24 clubs in Turkey bringing together more than 550 players. The matches are broadcast on public television. According to the Turkish Football Federation, the National Amputee Football Team, which is supported by the Turkish Football Federation and governed by the Turkish Sports Federation for the Physically Disabled, beat the host country, Poland, 2-1 in EURO Cup 2015 Final and won the championship. Earlier, they had beaten Ireland 5-0, Italy 9-1, and Spain 3-0.

: The World Amputee Football Federation is the global governing body for amputee football (soccer). The Federation’s primary objectives are:

1. To promote social interactivity, self-esteem and self-confidence among adult men and women, and especially among veterans, new and youthful amputees through recreational and competitive amputee football programs, and
2. To help member nations develop their programs, educate their publics on disability issues through sport, and to train their athletes for representation in elite international and World competitions – and in Paralympic competition when the sport achieves that status.

The Federation was formed at a world Congress in Brazil in 2005. Its founding members were Argentina, Brazil, England, Russia, Ukraine, the USA and Uzbekistan. In the last few years since then the sport has exploded in growth with the Federation now including more than 30 national associations on five continents.

All photos  © Don Barber

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