BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
On January 1, 1964, Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe in a New Year message analysed the state of sports in the country and urged the then young nation to brace up and protect its reputation.
In probably the only instance, a Nigerian leader used sports as theme of New Year message, Dr. Azikiwe urged citizens to develop the zeal to win always. He further offered some stop-gap measures for improvement of sports in Nigeria.
Even in 2020, the views expressed by Dr. Azikiwe, are still relevant.
Below is the full text of the message delivered on January 1, 1964.
Whilst we are on this topic of building a favourable image for Nigeria with African states, I would like to make few remarks on how our performance is helping to dwarf the stature of Nigeria among other nations.
In particular, I feel that our image has been distorted by the regular doses of defeats handed to some our teams by sides representing friendly nations.
The passing year has not been too bad especially in sports like athletics, boxing and lawn tennis. But in others like cricket, football, hockey and table tennis, we have been very much below form and did not come up to expectation.
Our standards in athletics are still under the international level. In football, we are still inferior to our African neighbours, relatively, not to speak of European sides.
Consequently, Nigeria has been unable to hold high its head among the sporting nations of the world in spite of our being the largest populated nation in Africa and the 13th among the 120 or more independent states of the earth.
Three factors are responsible for our short-coming. The first is our attitude to sports. The second is our general unwillingness to assimilate scientific techniques in training.
Lastly, we have not actively created the atmosphere on a national basis, where we can discover it to the glory of Nigeria.
Let it be clear to all concerned that gentility in sports is a by-product of the Victorian era with its aristocratic traditions. By the beginning of the 20th Century, the idea of not playing necessarily to win, but having the “honour” to participate formed the basis of British ethics of sportsmanship which, in our innocence, we have inherited.
Whilst this idea is still desirable from the point of view of pure amateurism in sports, the entry of the United States of America at the revived Olympic Games in Athens and the participation by the old nations, supported by the new nations who were born after the end of World War 1, has revolutionized international competition in sports.
Even the United Kingdom is now changing its former complacent attitude. Today, the emphasis is on winning and not merely participating, although the spirit of amateurism and scrupulous respect for the code regulating any particular sports still pervades the atmosphere of world sporting communities.
In other words, if the United States of America could engage the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in a football match, the players of both sides are made to realise that like true amateurs, they must respect the international football code, but in addition, they must play to win in order to safeguard the prestige and honour of their respective countries.
Nigerian sportsmen and women, who engage either in competitive or combative sports, must now understand that whilst an amateur sports man or woman is a person who cultivates sports as a pastime and contests for pleasure and not for monetary gain, the spirit of modern international sports has now transformed the athlete into a devotee of sports who loves his country more.
In the spheres of athletics, boxing, cricket, football, hockey, lawn-tennis, swimming and table tennis, we should now address ourselves seriously to teaching basic techniques to our athletes and encouraging them to be in peak physical condition the year round. This calls for state “intervention” in order to ensure efficiency of a high order.
The Federal and Regional Governments have already “intervened” on a moderate scale. The stars foretell that much more will be done in the future in view of the existence of advisory sports bodies to those Governments. This is definitely an admission that there is need to stem the tide of distortion to our national image.
As a stop-gap measure, our armed forces, including the Army, Navy and the Police (both Federal and Local), supported by our universities, teacher-training colleges and secondary schools, can be used in the immediate future for a crash programme in order to deploy our manpower resources and thereby select only the physically fit and technically prepared to be worthy wearers of our national colours for extramural competitions.
However, I hold the view that, in the long run, our future salvation will lie with the masses of our people who are able-bodied, both employed and unemployed. It is from their ranks that we should discover hidden talents.
The popularisation of sports throughout our motherland will be our saving grace from the present staccato of defeats and humiliations suffered by us at international sporting competitions.
I do not intend to be pessimistic but I hope that the New Year will give us a new lease of life and a fresh approach to the problems raised by our participation in international sports of a dual nature.
It is now incumbent on us to protect our reputation which is being badly mauled owing to many factors which we can overcome by short-range and long-range careful planning.
Who knows whether it would not be better to suspend bilateral sporting contests with our neighbours, in the meantime, and concentrate on training our athletes and seasoning them by intramural contests and international competitions of a multilateral nature?
A truce or moratorium of this nature should be of psychological value and should enable our sons and daughters to acquire proficiency in sports, imbibe skill in their specialities, and cultivate higher love for their country.