By Ade Ojeikere
Nigeria is truly a huge joke. We have many jesters in high places, little wonder one Nigerian once sang Nigeria jagajaga. How apt were the wordings of the song. This singer had to run away from the country because he was being haunted for daring to splash mud on one of the largest countries in the world. With a huge population, it is easy to find jesters replacing themselves at the pinnacle of governance. Otherwise, what is it that Nigeria has contributed to the emergence of Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua as a world boxing star? Is it the motley crowd who throng England whenever he fights, leaving at home the bosses of the fistic trade in their states?
Is it also the governmental delegation which provided the platform for Joshua to show that he had a proper upbringing by prostrating before president Muhamadu Buhari in London? Or is it the government team that arranged such an epoch-making event as the meeting of the World heavyweight champion with Mr. President, leaving at home the country’s sports minister? Shouldn’t such an event have held in Abuja with Mr. President decorating Joshua with a national honour, like the Queen, did in England when she decorated Joshua with the Member of the British Empire (MBE).
Had Joshua been made to visit Nigeria then, he could have made certain declarations about the fistic trade in the country which would have helped develop the game here. Joshua’s influence in the boxing world is massive. His presence with any NABA delegation to the corporate world would translate to instant cash or such requests approved with the speed of light.
Clips of Joshua training with our boxers would open the doors of sponsors who would want to utilise that marketing window to advertise their products and services. Such visuals are news items that would attract traction on social media. Joshua’s identifying with Nigerian boxers would help change people’s perception of the country in this recession period. Joshua’s presence at the hitherto Boxing Day activities on December 26, would have been a box office, even with the Coronavirus pandemic. I still don’t understand why the Nigerian government has failed to realise that the biggest public relations tool it can use to mirror the country properly to the world is sports, given its massive followership. Guess what, it comes for free. All that you need is to ensure that the industry thrives with our sportsmen and women attending and distinguishing themselves in big sporting events where Nigeria’s anthem is sung before they are decorated with their medals or trophies. Do our government know what it is for the world to stand still in sporting arenas listening to the rendition of our anthem before events and at medals’ presentation? The ripple effect of Joshua’s romance with boxing albeit sports could re-engineer the working of the industry in the country. Sports is business everywhere else but Nigeria. Again, we have missed the Joshua opportunity because some people wanted to be credited with the events.
Until Joshua came into the limelight after a near horrible past, we didn’t know that he is a Nigerian. When he had a brush with the British laws over drug-related offences arising from his early exposure to social ills to fend for himself, he wasn’t celebrated as a Nigerian here nor did the English accept that he was one of them. Such mischievous tags as Nigeria-born bla bla began his story in most newspapers’ reports unlike now when he is English and his fights are tagged Battle of Britain, ahead of the much-hyped fight against Tyson Fury fixed tentatively for May 2021, with staggering figures put at £200 million and gate takings put at £500 million.
Suspended from Britain’s boxing squad and sentenced to a 12-month community order including100 hours’ unpaid work, Joshua admitted that his conduct brought shame on his family, friends and those within his sport, promising to change his ways. Those who know Joshua attest to the fact that he is an accomplished footballer and athlete who could run the 100m in 11 seconds. Joshua began boxing few years ago at a local club after his cousin, Gbenga Ileyemi, recommended the sport.
‘‘The arrest changed a lot. It forced me to grow up and to respect my responsibilities. I’m not happy that I did what I did and there’s no way that kind of thing will ever happen again, but in a way I’m glad it did because it woke me up. I was just like a lot of young lads. It was all about how I looked, my clothes, clubbing, girls. I wasn’t with the best group of people.
‘‘I go running on Saturday nights now, not clubbing. I understand that if I’m to fulfil my potential then it’s all about hard work. It took me a while to realise this, but since last March I’ve never looked back. And you know what? I’m so much happier as a person, too,’’ Joshua told the international media.
This writer has been shocked by the applause from Nigerian government officials since Joshua knocked out Bulgarian boxer, Kubrat Pulev, in the ninth round of their world title bout at the SSE Arena, Wembley, to retain his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO heavyweight titles. Joshua’s state governor, Dapo Abiodun continued from where his predecessor, Ibikunle Amosun began when he said: “AJ’s victory gives us, Ogun State people immeasurable joy, as the IBF, WBA and WBO titleholder retained his place at his outing against Kubrat Pulev yesterday (Sunday December 13).
“So, this is to congratulate, on behalf of the good people of the Gateway State, our very own Anthony Joshua on the world-celebrated victory that has brought us pride and a justification for our investment in sports and youth development.” We said Mr. Governor but it would be very nice if you can make Ogun State the new Mecca for boxing in Nigeria. We wait.
“I join thousands of Nigerians who watched the fight last night to congratulate Anthony Joshua. His victory yet again confirms the superiority of Africans especially Nigerians and how far our sportsmen have gone in recent years.
“On behalf of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, I hereby convey the goodwill message of the Federal Government and the good people of Nigeria to him. It is imperative for him to understand how much the government and the people of Nigeria are proud of his achievements as our son”, Lawan said.
Again, Mr Senate President, could you please tell Nigerians how much was voted for sports in the country’s budget? Shouldn’t the national Assembly fashion out sports can be given lump sum as seed money such that it can be run as a business not a recreational activity as it seems here. Paltry sums for sports can’t deliver any dividend for the game and the country.
Mr. Senate President, visualise Joshua holding the National Sports Festival’s torch and trotting towards the Games’ bowl to light up the torch and the attendant crowd around him on his way up, then you would appreciate why the sports minister and the Edo State government, headed by Governor Godwin Obaseki, should be supported to get the world champion in Benin City to actualise this novel dream.
The talk that Joshua didn’t participate in the National Sports Festival is bunkum if we must raise the profile of the Games. I had the unique privilege to carry the London 2012 Olympic Games torch around Birmingham, London, with several world beaters such as the late Muhammed Ali et al. I wasn’t an Olympian before I did that. So what stops Joshua from lighting the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival’s torch inside the Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City in March, with pomp and ceremony?
Sports and its ancillary parts would grow in geometric projections if our administrators think outside the box. And this includes copying the way things are done in other climes.
Mr. Senate President, how much is the government budgeting for the Olympics in 2021 and the World Cup in Qatar in 2022? Serious minded nations aren’t talking about budgets but counting in their mind’s eyes the number of medal they would get at the Olympics, for instance. Mr. Senate President, sportsmen and women are among the highest paid professionals. Serena Williams, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Lewis Hamilton, Usain Bolt et al are some of the big earners. They achieved this feat because they were exposed to sports as kids. In fact, Serena’s dad groomed his daughters for stardom. No one is shocked by the phenomenal achievements of the Williams’ sisters -Venus and Serena.
For any commodity to have value, it must have a price. You ask, how much is any sport worth in Nigeria? Keep guessing. A company will place its goods or services on sports if there is massive followership, since the firm needs to reach as many consumers as possible. Firms key into sports to enhance their corporate image and clientele, which they won’t want to tarnish on the altar of sports sponsorship. This is why they seldom support Nigeria sports because most sports federations have not cultivated the culture of accountability.
Food and beverages firms as well as other sponsors see in the fans who throng the venues a window to market their goods and services.
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