In Nigeria, lack of sports infrastructure, funding frustrate Athletes devt – Chukwumerije

‘Only genuine interest, support not lip service ‘ll heal Nigeria’s Sports’

Chukwumerije display his certificate after successfully completing his educator programme

Engr. Chika Chukwumerije, three time Olympian and only Nigerian Taekwondo Olympic medalist recently bagged Educator training certification as one of the very first set of Taekwondo big heads to do so. In this interview with Blueprint Sport crew, Chukwumerije who is currently the technical director, Nigeria Taekwondo Federation speaks on recently concluded Educator training event and Taekwondowon camp for Athletes in Korea, among other issues.

Excerpts

Take away from Educator training in Korea

Nigeria’s sport in general needs to step up. Other countries are racing ahead. We need to step up in terms of infrastructure, and investing in development of sport professionals by sending them for more courses and programmes. I think that was what struck me hardest while at the training event.

The educator course was at a personal expense. It’s as a result of work being done over a decade. It’s what I’m being called specifically to do so to be among those who will go to parts of the world and teach coaches.

The event wasn’t an open invitation. We couldn’t buy it. If I had to be invited, what of if I wasn’t able to afford the transport fare and all that? But it’s good that a Nigerian is one of the educators. I’m one of the few from five African countries and the only one in West Africa for now.

It is now how to put it to good use that remained. It’s a means of thinking towards the direction of requesting for fellow Nigerian coaches to be certified in this direction. Since I have acquired it, other Nigerian coaches don’t have to pay for flight tickets to do so. The World Taekwondo may just send one or two to assist and deliver the course when we are ready to impact same knowledge we gained. We can then attract other Educators from African countries around us here and it means that we could compel one from each state to be at the programme and to encourage many grassroots coaches to be at the programme because really I came back loaded with a lot of knowhow.

And I can clearly see why we are lacking behind in this part of the world. My participation during this course is quite historic. It’s historic because this is the first ever course and we were part of it. I made the trip three days after the World taekwondo event was done there. There was also another program in Muju. An athletes’ development programme was set up for athletes from around the world. Two of our National team athletes – Elizabeth Iheanacho in the female -67kg and Benjamin Okumose in the Male +87kg came for the event.

The event happened because there is a bilateral relationship. The embassy of South Korea in Nigeria was very helpful in facilitating visa process, registration process and they said they would refund 20% of our air ticket expense. The expenses were over half-a-million naira and we had to pay for it.

Image result for chika chukwumerije attending educator training in korea

Chukwumerije (second right) in photo session in Korea

The antidote Nigeria Taekwondo needs

This brings me back to the point that sport like taekwondo needs investors. We can’t keep dying. Let the individuals especially those who are wealthy get involved.  We are very visible and I think this is good opportunity.

 I see the point of the ministry looking for private investors but we just have to spend to develop the sport. If you see a sport that is doing very well, you need to encourage it.

Olympics prospects

I don’t really expect athletes like Elizabeth Iheanacho and other younger ones to make podium stage in 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I expect the crop of these young athlete to be ready to make impact at 2024 Olympics because that is the reality. We have a very young set of athletes – IfeOluwa Ajayi and the African youth champion was among the four athletes that were meant to be on this trip to Korea but we couldn’t find sponsorship for two athletes.

They couldn’t buy their tickets and when you look at it, one month of experiences that they never had would have catapulted their development. So when we reach out, we are not asking for support for us. No! we are saying you should invest in these young people, you are going to reap it long term and since we are around long term we are happy to have a very healthy business relationship where we promote the organisation and you are proud of what the youth would turn out to become if people like Ajayi and Anyanacho could get to the world championship or the Olympics maybe next year, everybody will jump and want to celebrate them. This is when we should do the work, I don’t think a country like Nigeria with vast resources we have should just have maybe one or two prospective medalist at Olympics.

 I think with the kind of resources we have and with our ancestral boast as the giant of Africa, we should always be confident of boosting of many potential medalists.

 In athletics, for a long time, it has been only Blessing Okagbere.  At a time, it was only Mary Onyali and it’s same across other sports. Things like this make me sad because is like wasting time and talent.  The taekwondo federation has been solid. We have been consistent in doing good programmes and have not gotten support from anyone. If we apply to the ministry, they are quite, if we apply to corporate world, they are quite. That’s not fair.

Unending experience

Perhaps, we need to bring out stories out in Nigeria to the people government that it’s not fair. We have been consistent for so long without enough support and don’t forget that there is a huge emotional guide. I won an Olympics medal in 2008 and I know it took a lot of years. I spent a lot of years before I got to the podium and after 2008, there have been no development till now.

 If you see this young players cropping up now, it’s because between 2008 and 2018 which is 10 years there was no quality effort to bring them up. So, obviously you will see a rant for a few years. With the good work we have been doing for the past two years, if we are just consistent at least five more years you will suddenly see a blossoming of taekwondo athletes and that is how it is.

 If you see the result being posted by wrestling athletes, it didn’t start today, Honourable Daniel Igali has been doing this for about 10 years now, by investing heavily in it. He built from scratch and this is the way to go for all the sport.

I’m very happy for them, the experience they got, they did a lot of training, used a lot of equipment that was different for them and the first time they were open to Asian style of training. You know they train very hard and most times three times a day with different techniques and methodology. They came back from recent African championship humbled because they now knew they might be world champions but they are quite a long way from where they should be. For me, this was the kind of exposure Taekwondo athlete needed. It’s just sad that we didn’t take the other two athletes later in the year to a similar camp in Korea. Later in the year, similar camp programme will be opened.  We are going to rotate them. We want to take another five athletes and another coach because that is what development is.

If since 2008, no Nigerian has made it high and even in the last Olympics, no taekwondo athlete was represented there. The journey to qualify for Olympics is not easy.

I think by 2024, with the current upcoming athlete and because of the work we have done, I think by 2024 we could easily see a medalist. By 2020, the first thing is to qualify. The position is very strong and enough invest is not pouring in. I think one, we should be more aggressive in reaching out, not just to corporate world but to the everyday Nigeria. Their little contributions would help because they will understand the plight of these young athletes will resonate very well with them as they are mostly from the grassroots, most of them are not rich. They graduated from public and government schools.

Sponsorship drive and ‘frustrating response

I hope we can tell their story more and reach out to people who can identify with their dreams because from my experience what I found out is that and I won’t stop saying it, you write to the government, Senators but these doesn’t interest them, unless there is a huge publicity attached to it or whatever but when you want to support the future, you shouldn’t think about all that. When you are helping, you help because you can.

For me, if really we want to make podium, funding is the foundation of it. So, there is a lot in my head right now, a lot to experience and I stay very frustrated by the lack of tools to work with no infrastructure. You invest a lot of your personal resources in getting equipment and all that.

Today or tomorrow, the honourable Minister or the Permanent Secretary could be changed and how they help you depend on whether they like you or not. Whether you are a threat or not and you need more professionals to work with who would bring the funds and hire maybe a foreign trainer or a coach to help develop the local ones.

 Weeks towards the event, they are more intent into the allowances they would get. So for people like us that have already invested in sport and know people that are interested, if you look at them, you know they have passion for it. I’m not in the state House of Assembly or Hose of Representatives to start requesting for funds to help out and most people going for these positions are not ready to help out.

I wonder why we can’t have a system that will provide for the youth of the country. Why do we have to hustle for it? We are at the stage where federations don’t have yearly subventions. We don’t know, they said they do but we have not seen one dime and everybody is keeping quite. People want to be politically correct and right now, federations are not getting yearly support. Our track records is already speaking for itself. Imagine giving good support to a federation like wrestling, taekwondo, boxing or basketball, you see the people performing. The least you can do is to give them support, don’t say they seem to be doing programme, and so you leave them out to dry, at some point the source might run out.


Muhammad Shehu of Nigeria and Sohwon Kim of USA fight during maiden G-1 ranked Nigeria Taekwondo International Open

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