Why I quit Taekwondo – Chika Chukwumerije
Engr. Chika Chukwumerije is a Nigerian Olympic medallist who had qualified and appeared at three Olympic Games. In this interview with select Journalists in Abuja, the immediate past Technical Director of the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation speaks on his life time as a Taekwondo practitioner among other issues.
Decision to leave the stage
There comes a point in time when you have to involve, and you have to move on. I started Taekwondo when I was three years old. I come from a family of black belt, so my Dad was a black belt. I have seven siblings who were all black belt and my family actually had quite alot of success in Taekwondo because within the family, five of us were national champions, three were University champions, two were African champions.
I went to the Olympics and the Commonwealth games. So after this many years of being engaged in the sport, being passionate for the sport, investing in sports, it was very important that if I take this kind of decision while I say okay I need to pause a bit and move on to another career, then it was also important to let the people who have supported me so much know about it.
I have a degree in mechanical engineering and I have a masters in operation and supply chain management, I was a first class student and the best graduating student and in two years time, I will be 40, so I think it was also important to also plan for my future to be stable in all both family, financially, career wise. So in as much as I love my sport family very much, I thought it was very important to start this other career because I think I have a very good career in my professional course. So after eight years of being in the federation, is been very tough. I have not gotten any certification in the past eight years so it means I have not studied, I have not read, and as a young man is not good, I need to also try and upgrade my skills and personal development and that was the primary reason why I said maybe after this much investment in the sport, I have shown so much, we’ve done so much that I need to leave for quite a while to go and secure my future as a young man. So I thought it was respectful to have a conversation with you guys to thank you for 21 solid years of support and also to ask you to keep supporting the sport.
Plans for CCSF
The Foundation known as Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation (CCSF) is basically about empowering young people. I am happy to let you know that the first generation of young athletes are in the final year. People like Joy, Kenneth, are in the final year at the University of Abuja, Elizabeth Anyanacho is in the 4th year, still has one more year, some others are in the second year.
I have two who got admission recently at University of Maiduguri. In all, they are about, they are about 14 of them. Of course, I will keep supporting them, so the Foundation is not actually about taekwondo, it’s actually about empowering young persons to be self sufficient. We use to do a lot of other skills acquisition… For me, this is a better way of empowering young people because at some point in time, they have to pay their bills, and I enjoy it very much.
Study/academic refresher plans
I am doing a lot of courses, studying some languages – Chinese, French and I’m going to use the next one year to look for university and to make the application for the exam course I want to do.
It’s something I want to do for eight years, but the older you get, the more difficult it will be because you want to earn a degree. There are so many financial and actual responsibilities. Ofcourse, most of the people I’m taking care of are now grown up in the university. My vision is clear, I want to be involve in Nigeria project always. I know I want to help young people always, I also have to develop the capacity, that requires me to engineer skills I have.
So the next one year will give me a lot clarity on exactly what I’m going to do. I went to three Olympics because I planned to be at three Olympics and after 2012 London, by 2016 I was still the highest ranked athlete. God knows if I had participated, I would have qualified but my plan stopped at London, so I did not go ahead. So since I also want to let go of Taekwondo after Tokyo Olympics, it something I have been planning for a few years, and I know over the next one year, I’m m going to make another 15 years plan to help guide my life properly. We all agree that Nigeria can be challenging, you have to be very skilled, very resourceful, you have to be zealous and hopefully the Lord will grant me everything over the next one year.
I’m sure your parent trained you through school, and when you finished school, it will be time to stand on your own. I have put in a lot of knowledge in the sport and all they need to do is just immitate, do programmes, have good policies, make sure your programmes are fair, selections are fair.
There’s no athlete that will call me that I will still not pick his or her calls to mentor, to talk, that one doesn’t take any effort. What probably they will miss is the brain work. I didn’t use to sleep, I use to spend a lot of sleepless nights writing programmes, writing proposals, writing reports, so is this time that I need back, because I need to learn other skills so I cannot afford that time of spending 15 hours a day on just sorting taekwondo stuffs. So I need to spend it to build my company, prepare for my PHD, build my skills and just personal development so that’s what I’m talking about.
If the media call me at any point, and say what’s your opinion on this or how do you think they should do this or that, it’s just a phone call, I can handle that. Even as of today, at least 10 taekwondo athletes have one issue or the other. Infact yesterday, one called me, and he was almost crying that I’m not coming back this and that, and you offer words of encouragement. As you’ve said I’m an Olympic medalist so you’ll also let them know that world doesn’t start and end in one person. You have the tools to survive them for the future and it is very important. I’ve always been an advocate of don’t build around one person but rather build the system so yet the system was not fully formed. I wished we could have trained more people especially for sport admin, I wish we could have gotten sponsorship that would have eased expenses.
Support rally for new Nigeria Taekwondo Federation board
In all, I think we should give the benefit of doubt to the new board. I’m sure they’ve also learnt a lot, and let see how they’ll try and carry out the vision to raise more funds and do more programmes. So to answer your questions, I will be available to the athletes anytime they call me guidance for advice. The only thing that won’t be there is the technical input because it takes so much time to train an elite athlete. You won’t believe efforts I put into it, and I need to recall that time back to focus on personal development and hopefully four to five years, I will be stronger, I will be able to offer more if I’m going to come back.
Eye on Elizabeth Anyanacho
I have gone to her school to see how she’s coping, I’ve called her. Before she went back to school, she called me she was panicking on how to be integrated and her GPA now is not so great, I was talking with her and I said look you have to focus on school. You are worried about a medal at the Olympics, I’m worried about her mental health that was my first priority and if she competed for only three years and went to the Olympics, I don’t think she did up to 12 events before she qualified for the Olympics, and only two – All African games and Olympic qualifiers were quality events. So that she qualified was evident in the quality of the programme. If Nigeria wants her is basically to make sure she attends turnaments, make sure she’s not lacking her welfare and benefits, so life will go on, she has learnt alot. I did not win a medal at my first appearance but in Beijing, I went ahead to win a medal so I also disagree with that notion of they failed.
Elizabeth is a very good prospect. If she’s handled well, probably she will do well but also know that she’s in school, she’s in 400 level, so she also has to manage that. So the new federation only has to manage their athletes, do a lot of programmes vto discover new athletes and make it competitive and all that. There’s no point that which you will tell me that it’s enough. In four years after Paris, you will talk about Los Angeles, then after Los Angeles you will talk about the next one, so actually it doesn’t stop but hopefully everything will go well, we pray so. We know that the sport will take a heat a bit but I trust that a lot of people have seen it especially young people and that they can carry the flag going forward.
More reasons to reflect and make more impact
I saw a video recently about the common world guy, the blind guy who was begging for arms and stock, will you be happy if in due course I’m begging for arms and you refer to this time? I need to sort out myself. I have never complained or have you heard me complain? I don’t, I tried to set up a vibrant communication network within athletes. I went to government secondary schools, I was going there every week, nobody was giving me money, I was funding it myself that’s where we found Elizabeth. She made it to the Olympics. Then, there were programs all-over the country and many times you use your own funding, for me before you come into the federation maybe, some federations have funding but taekwondo does not. So when you come into a federation, I already came in knowing that we are going to have financial challenges and we are going to have challenges….
Is better to have a Chika Chukwumerije that can really support the sport. Now I have a lot of knowledge and I use it a lot, relationship knowledge support is for. But now I need resources, not just to support the sport but for also my personal career development. So I don’t know any other person who has done 21 years with consistent investment like this and without meaningful support, if you know let me know. So, if I was your little brother, I’m sure you will say that this is the right decision. I don’t know it might be painful but it is also a painful decision for me but I think in a long run is going to favour the community and again all Nigerians. It’s about building the community in which we live and in any way I can be of help in other areas I will.