THIS DAY IN HISTORY: AFRICA LOSES 1ST PILLAR OF SPORTS

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Africa’s all-time sports philanthropist, Bashorun MKO Abiola died on this date 7 July 1998. He was the continent’s best-known sports financier.

He died in controversial circumstances while in detention in Abuja under the military regime.

Perhaps more than most other Nigerians, Abiola’s influence loomed large on the Nigerian and African sports scene. He was for a time strongly associated with sports, both as participant and sponsor.

Between the ages of 18 and 19, he won the All Nigeria School Athletics Championship awards and the middleweight amateur boxing title. He sponsored various sports activities in Nigeria and 14 other African countries. 

Among them are Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia and Tunisia. Such was his unparalleled support for sports that no other African has been able to fill his position as Africa’s First Pillar of Sports since 1980 when the African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU) bestowed the honour on him.

Even in death, he remained the only pillar of sports as no other person had been bestowed the honour since his investiture in 1980.

Not many deeply involved in business and political activities have the kind of devotion that Abiola had for sports.

His commitment was beyond the mere donation of money, materials and trophies. He graced sports arenas with his presence. Although, he was best associated with the national passion, football, Abiola’s interest cut across the broad spectrum of sporting activities.

He rendered such tremendous support to boxing that the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) made him a member of its World Business Commission. 

Abiola was the sole-sponsor of the African Footballer of the Year award until his death in 1998 when CAF had to seek corporate sponsorship for the event.

In Nigeria, Abiola ran three football teams in Nigeria – the ITT in Lagos, the Abiola Babes and Concord FC. With Abiola Babes, he set the pace in players’ welfare package and motivation.

For his extra ordinary support for many disciplines of sports, Abiola was installed as the First Pillar of Sports in Africa.

Even in death, he remained the only pillar of sports as no other person had been bestowed the honour since his investiture in 1980.

His motivational activities cut across the national frontiers that he donated the now rested CAF Cup trophy which he endowed with100, 000 US dollars.

The trophy was merged with the African Winners’ Cup competition to form the current CAF Confederation Cup in 2004.

In acknowledgement for football development in Africa, he was awarded the CAF Order of Merit in Gold in 1992.

Today, he is the only Nigeria who has two major sporting arena named after him. In his native town, Abeokuta, the MKO Abiola Stadium in the prime sporting arena of Ogun State.

Last year, the lead sporting arena by the Federal Government was renamed the MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja.