Olajide Fashikun is currently riding on successful crest as a veteran sports journalist who was once an Athlete in different sporting activities. At the moment, he is the Director General of Nigeria Sports development Fund Initiative (NSDFI). In this interview, the Publisher of a sweet-sail media platform, Gongnews spoke of his drive in life and other issues as relayed by IKENNA OKONKWO AND PAUL OKAH.
My sporting journey
I am a retired athlete. By my restless nature, I did over 6 different sports for Nigeria. From athletics to handball, I also played volleyball, basketball and eventually handball, where I played for two and half seasons. As a professional athlete in Zamalek of Egypt, injury stopped me on the 11th of November, 1998 , when I eventually had to use what Zamalek paid me as my insurance to fund my three years education in the University of Illorin; where I studied Paediatric Psychiatric. Since then, I have been back in the media. Of course, I was in the media before I left for professional sports and I returned to the media after the injury that put paid to my active participation. Even as a student, I was a media man.
Till today, I’m still doing journalism and by this time next year, I should be celebrating my 35 years in journalism.
I had the privilege of coming into sports very early. By the time I was 14, I was in my Cadet and I started representing Nigeria in 1979 at the Ramat Cup in Lagos. The only event that I have not been able to attend as an athlete was the Olympics. When in 1999 I realized that I had clocked 20 years in the national team, I thought I should call it quit because I didn’t feel we will qualify for the Olympics and my estimation was very correct. I have a very restless nature and I like making use of my time at all times, or find something to occupy my time, so that the devil will not find a job for me.
I sustained an injury when I represented Nigeria at the World Junior Handball Championship, when I inadvertently collided with the Swedish goalkeeper. He stepped on my right thumb, when I had already pulled my weight in a different direction. That forced the thumb to come out of the socket. It was one injury that killed off my professional career. Of course, my club did the very best for me, as they brought in the very best doctors, but I was told that I would not be able to play again for life. It was devastating to me, but I took it in my stride and applied for JAMB form in Cairo, from where I went to study in the University of Ilorin.
As a Sports Writer
Later, when I became Chairman of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria in Kwara State, I started managing Ruth Ogbeifo, who was a weightlifter. She incidentally went to the 7th All African Games in Johannesburg, where she ironically sustained a devastating injury. There was no money from the federal government and her immediate employers, Kwara State government, also abandoned her. I had to mobilize my colleagues in SWAN in order to crowd-raise money for Ruth’s treatment.
However, along the line, a medical doctor, Dr. Kolala Femiho, who was running a private medical practice at Stadium Road in Ilorin, intervened. He didn’t just take over the cost of the surgery; he took over the cost of flying her to Germany and her post medical rehabilitation. This humane gesture was the motivation for Ruth to come back into sports and qualified for Sydney 2000 Olympics and became the first African woman to eventually win a Silver medal. But for her body weight, she would have won the Gold, that was eventually won by an Iranian.
The birth of NSDFI
My experience now is on how we should manage the injuries sustained by athletes in competitions. That’s one trauma that has been at the back of my mind, because I don’t like athletes having medical issues. This is one of the reasons why, when I had the opportunity of becoming the Director General of Nigeria Sports Development Fund, one of the key issues I have to pursue is athletes having insurance scheme. It is already in place.
All it requires is for athletes, coaches and sports journalists to pay #1,000, while the Fund will pay #1,000 balance for the premium. You can up it in order to get an insurance cover to suit your own purpose. But today, no athlete who crop injury would be waiting for the federal or state government to take over the cost of rehabilitation. Every athlete should take their injury management in their own hands.
Funding Sports in Nigeria and our Olympics plans
The biggest problem is that we expect government to bring money into sports in this part of the world. We also expect the state government to be the one to produce athletes, which is not so in other parts of the world, like in Australia, where the Commonwealth Games is going on presently. Sports is a business of the community and we are trying to take sports back to the communities. In doing that, you don’t expect a poverty-stricken community to produce money for that. That’s why former Nigerian athletes, eleven of us, had to pull our resources together to decide what we should do for our country. We sent ourselves to training programs abroad and we are domesticating what we learnt. We are trying to galvanize this nation.
Whatever funds we raise, we will domicile it in the community and give them guidance on how to spend the money. In doing this, we are looking at the possibility of bringing one million kids and youths into sports in the next two years. After the Commonwealth Games in Australia, we are going to get 90 athletes from 5 different sports, excluding weightlifting, who will enjoy the ten million naira per annune Olympics support grant, so that they can concentrate and plan their own program towards Tokyo 2020.
Our plan is not to ensure that the whole 90 athletes qualify for Tokyo, but the possibility of 1/3 of the 90 athletes qualifying and for the qualified athletics to win Bronze medals in Tokyo. If they do that, it means that the nation will get about ten Bronze medals, which will be the best because we have not been winning them.
Even in 1994, when Nigeria first qualified for the World Cup that was when the federal government set up a committee under the chairmanship of Dr Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu to raise funds for the World Cup. After the World Cup, the left-over of the realized fund was accounted for. General Oladipo Diya added more responsibility to the committee by suggesting that the money should be used to prepare for the Olympics and that’s how preparation for 1996 Olympics started in 1995. Some of the athletes who were then in school were given Olympic grants and support structures, and fees paid to affiliated schools. That culminated to the best performance we have had so far at the Olympics.
Possibilities at Tokyo 2020
We are four years late in preparing for Tokyo. We don’t want to set our goal too high and that’s why we have decided to use 90 athletes, with the possibility of 30 of them qualifying for the Olympics and for, at least, ten of them to win Bronze medals. We have also prepared a reward system. If you go to Tokyo 2020 and come back with Gold, Silver or Bronze, you will get 10 million naira, 7.5 million naira and 5 million naira, respectively. It is not as if we have the money on ground. We are going to use our knowledge from trainings abroad to galvanize Nigerians to buy into this process and see how much accountability there will be on our part, and how much respect and pride it will bring to the Nigerian people. We will institutionalize these processes.
If we do things right, there is a guarantee that we will do three million jobs outside the government, on a self-driven economy. For instance, the one million children we are looking at will need about three million professionals to manage them, and each of them will be going home with a chunk of funds. What it means is that the sports economy is bigger than the oil economy.
Support base, way forward
We have gotten tremendous support from the federal government. The last time we visited the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, he asked of how much money we need from the federal government to achieve our objective and we told him that there is no government in the world that will bring all the money needed in sports. In our case, we don’t expect to get money from the government. Rather, we want to go to the people who own the communities to give us their support and then manage the money to give them joy. We gave him the example of what happened in South Africa and the Vice President told us we have the support of the federal government all the way.
At the moment, we are still trying to put our structures together to determine when we will need the morale support of the government to achieve our objectives. We have been able to decide with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, which is the largest body in the country, to work together and we designed the National Athletics Development Centres.
Each of the community is going to have a National Athletics Development Centres. We are going to have four specialized centres. For instance, we are going to have centre development in Bayelsa State, Swimming Centre of Excellence in Rivers State because Rivers State has three Olympics size swimming pool in the city of Port Harcourt. As I said, government will not bring the kind of fund that is required, so we will bring the fund and then invite the children living in Port Harcourt to go to the nearest swimming pool in order to be trained.
Combining sporting activities and education
However, every child in this program must combine sports and education successfully. If you do your one year anniversary in the program, we will take over the cost of your education. And if you continue to perform well, both in sports and education, we will sponsor your education to any level. All we want is for a product of this program to be better than all the eleven of us behind this project.
Incidentally, one of us, Sadiq Abdullahi, is a professor who played tennis for Nigeria. So, one of the children must aspire to be better than him as a professor and a success in sports. They should aspire to be better than athletes like Mary Onyali, Ruth Ogbeifo or Blessing Okagbare.
I’m the only one who refused to take the top ten slot, that’s why we have the top 10 out of the eleven of us in the programme. If you go to our website, www.nsdfi.com, you will see the list of 10 of us. All we are asking is for you to pick your form and donate #200 to your favourite athlete once a year. If it is one week to the donation of your #200 naira, you will be notified in order for you to make another donation. You may decide to pay a multiple of #200, but the system will generate a comprehensive receipt for any type of donation to either Team Onyali or any of the top ten athletes. You will get about three receipts.
Public path with NSDFI
However, you should demand for accountability so that we don’t rest on our oars. We want to make sure that we use sports to change the face of this country. By the time we have these six athletes’ development centres and four regional development centres, it would change the face of sports in this country.
A sports journalist can come in as a technical manager and have ten kids under him, and he’s entitled to ten percent of whatever that child earns from the league. Once you are nine months, after the initial training, you will go to the league. The first National Academy Development Centre is in Ondo State. We started the Tennis clinic last year in Ondo State, so by now, they are already one year old in the program. They are going to start the league any moment from now and the prize money is 7.5 million naira and the logistics for the association to manage the league in the state is 2.5 million naira, which gives us a cumulative of ten million naira.
These kids will play in the six communities where the centres are for the N7.5 million. Assuming a child is into tennis, badminton, Taekwando and more than one or two other sports, and gets to the quarterfinals of all these six sports, and picks whatever value of money at stake and brings it into a single account, that child is already a millionaire. By the time he plays in our league for four or five years, you can imagine the type of money he will have at his age. We have also put measures in place to make sure that we don’t flout international Olympic committee charter. We have also put safety measures in place so that these young athletes won’t be distracted by the kind of money they make in the processes.
When they finish playing in their communities, they come to a level called Community Challenge, where all the children will be divided into ten clubs of the top ten athletes in our project and play from that end. Fifty percent of whatever is made from that level goes to their club. Their parents, aunties and uncles are the owners of the clubs. We are only asking they retain fifteen out of the fifty percent in the account of the club. Another ten million and you understand what it means to the owners of the club and the community and they now go to the national. The same season where the will play for another ten million naira from the best that comes out of the club. There is thirty million naira per sport per season and there are six sports.