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Olukayode Thomas: Sunday Dare’s list of sports icons smacks of nepotism, rewards drug cheats

The list of 60 Sports Icons released by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to celebrate Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary sends a wrong message to stakeholders in the industry: that you can be a cheat or a non-contributor to the sports industry and still be regarded as an icon, OLUKAYODE THOMAS reports


In the history of British athletics, Linford Christie stands out as the greatest achiever. The first British man to have won gold medals in the 100 metres at the Olympic Games, World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Christie was the first European to run a sub-10:00 sec and the most decorated British athlete. Celebrated by the elites and the masses, Christie won 24 medals in a glittering career.

The moment he tested positive to drug in 1999, Christie became a pariah in global sports. The British Olympic Association gave him a red card and the World Athletics (IAFF) prohibited him from working for the BBC at the Sydney Olympic.

Lance Armstrong’s iconic image in the sporting world ceased the day the seven consecutive Tour de France winner tested positive to performance enhancing drugs. He was stripped of all of his achievements and like Christie, he became an outsider in the sports family.

The fairy tale story of Marion Jones is stuff epic films are made of. The best thing to happen to women sprinting in America after Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jones was every Americans’ heroine but that changed the day it was known that her feats were made possible by steroids.

Celebration of Drug Cheats
Drugs cheats have always been tolerated among members of the sports family in Nigeria, but the current Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, has elevated them from the backseat to the high table by naming some of them among Nigeria’s 60 icons of sports as part of events to celebrate our country’s 60th independence anniversary last month.

While Dare, a neophyte in sports, may be pardoned if he humbly apologizes and withdraws the list, members of the panel that gave him the final list did Nigerian sports a disservice.

Assuming their knowledge of Nigeria’s sports history and best global practices in sports is vague, are they also averse to consulting several encyclopedia of sports in Nigeria who will give them an untainted list for free?

The first two names on the list, Chioma Ajunwa and Mary Onyali, were banned for taking performance enhancing drugs during their career; so they can’t be icons.

The dictionary defines icon as a person worthy of veneration. An athlete caught and banned for cheating cannot be worthy of veneration. Simply put, a drug cheat cannot be a role model.

Tainted Relay Teams as Icons
Apart from Ajunwa, Onyali and other athletes who have been banned for cheating named as icons, winners of the following relay medals cannot be icons because a member of the team was banned for cheating: Barcelona’92 4x100m silver winning team, the Atlanta’ 96 4X400m silver medal winning team and the Sydney 2000 gold winning team.

By naming the team as icons y,ou have inadvertently named a drug cheat as an icon.

When the U.S. 4x400m relay team was stripped of the gold medal won at Sydney 2000 Olympics, only Antonio Pettigrew tested positive to drugs. Other members of the team Alvin Harrison, Calvin Harrison and Michael Johnson were innocent but they lost their medals.

Ditto with the Jamaica team at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, asonly Nester Carter tested positive; but Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Michael Frater lost their gold medals.

Ogunkoya and Bada ought to stand alone

Falilat Ogunkoya is a trailblazer

Members of Dare’s panel that joined Falilat Ogunkoya with the Atlanta 4x400m silver winning team are either ignorant of her achievements or they are being simply mischievous.

Ogunkoya is the first Nigerian athlete ever to win an individual medal in athletics; one of the first to win a medal in the inaugural World Junior Championships, a gold medal in 200m.
Fali, as she is the fondly called, is the first and noonly Nigerian female to rank number one in the world in the women 400m in 1998 – the same year she was ranked number two in the world in 200m after Marion Jones.

On the continent, Fali was a colossus in the 200m and 400m; winning gold and silver medals in the African Championships and All Africa Games. A silver medalist in the World Indoor, Fali’s time of 49.10 sec returned at the Atlanta’96 Olympics is the African record in 400m and the twelfth fastest of all time.

Joining Sunday Bada with the Sydney 2000 Olympic silver medal winning team is pathetic. World Champion Indoor in 1997, Bada won 400m on the national stage a record nine times. Bada has the second fastest time ever by a Nigerian quarter-miler, after Innocent Egbunike’s 44.17 s.

Apart from winning the World Athletics Continental Cup medal on many occasions, Bada also won medals at the Commonwealth Games, All African Games and African Championships medals in 200m, 400m and the relays. Bada also won relay medals in the World Athletics Championships, a bronze in 1995 and a relay gold medal at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Both Ogunkoya and Bada achieved their feats without testing positive to drugs.

Omission of Egbunike and Alli

Yusuf Alli successfully transitioned from athlete to sports administration

While Ogunkoya and Bada were lucky to be smuggled in via relay teams, the complete exclusion of Innocent Egbunike and Yussuf Alli is unbelievable.

Athletics aficionados, including this writer, are still dumbfounded that the duo, despite their immense achievements on and off the track without drug scandals, were not considered worthy of being among the sixty sports icons from 1960 to 2020.

Egbunike was so good a quarter-miler that at the finals of the 400m in the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi, Kenya President Arab Moi of Kenya exclaimed: “This Innocent is not innocent”, after Egbunike defeated his favourite athlete, David Kitur, to win the gold medal in the 400m.

A great athlete who is currently an excellent coach, Egbunike has been head coach of Team Nigeria contingents to many games and championships. He has been personal coach to athletes and teams from various countries like USA, England, Canada, Cameroon, Bahamas, Senegal and others.

He coached many athletes to win gold, silver and bronze medals in games and championships. They include Chris Brown, Angelo Taylor, Jamie Baluch, Tyree Washington, Solomon Warrisso, Merlene Ottey and others.
Several Nigerians have won medals under Egbunike. They include the gold medal winning team at Sydney Olympics, the Ezinwa Twins Brothers, Fatima Yusuf, silver and bronze medal winning team at Beijing Olympics and several others.

Because of his feats as an athlete, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Azusa Pacific University in 1992 and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) Hall of Fame in1988.

Egbunike’s achievements on track include being ranked Top 10 in the world for 400m for five years and the World University Games Champion in 200/400m.

He won the Africa Games double gold medal in 1987; was Africa record holder in 400m 1987 to 2006; former Commonwealth record holder in 400m, 1984, ran under 45.00 sec in 400m 12 times.

Egbunike was a member of the quartet that won Nigeria’s first athletics medal, a bronze at the Los Angeles ’84 Olympics and won the World Athletics World Championships silver medal at the Rome ’87 championships was voted African/Nigerian Athlete of the Year in 1987.

That Nigeria is the number one destination for marathon and road race runners in Africa today and one of the top destinations in the world is due to the financial muscle of Mike Itemuagbor, Lagos State Government and Access Bank, and the marketing strategies of Nilayo Sports Management Limited; but their deep pockets was able to achieve great things with the technical and managerial acumen of Yussuf Alli, the renown long jumper whose seamless transition to becoming one of the best sports events manager is due to self-reinvention.

Within five years, Alli nurtured Okpekpe 10km Road Race and Access Bank Lagos City Marathon to be proud winners of prestigious World Athletics Bronze and Silver Labels.
Alli has carried the gospel of marathon and races to Onitsha, Aba, Abeokuta, Sagamu, Kaduna and other parts of Nigeria with great success.

Always giving back to athletics in Nigeria, between 2013 and 17, Alli ensured AFN ran all its programmes despite paucity of funds. The success of Ese Brume at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and Rio Olympics was largely due to Alli’s coaching acumen.

When Nigeria hosted the 2003 All African Games, Alli was the brain box of the Games Service, the department that was the engine room of the games.

An all-round sportsman who excelled in football and sprints before settling for long jump, Alli was a member of Team Nigeria contingent to Moscow ’80 Olympics Games as an high school student.

He won many medals in long jump for Nigeria at the African Championship, All African Games, World Universities Games, World Athletics Continental Cup, the Commonwealth Games and others.

A former African record holder in long jump, Alli was captain of Team Nigeria to major games and championships like the Olympics, All African Games, Commonwealth Games and others for a record 12 years. Alli was inducted into the University of Missouri Hall of Fame in 1991.

It is a great travesty of justice that Egbunike and Alli were snubbed by the panel.

No Mikel and Amodu but Lawal, Amokachi
If exclusion of athletic legends worth their weight in gold and inclusion of drug cheats was shocking, the exclusion of Shaibu Amodu and Jon Obi Mikel and inclusion of Daniel Amokachi and Garba Lawal over them is scandalous.

Apart from being a part of Atlanta ’96 team and being a fringe player in the Super Eagles, what qualifies Lawal as an icon? Or even Amokachi, whose disciplinary record as a player was awful?

Amodu was the first indigenous coach to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup in 2002. He repeated it again in 2010 and left an indelible mark as coach of many clubs in Nigeria and beyond.

Mikel was one of the forces that ensured Nigeria won the Nations Cup in South Africa in 2013. After being made Team Nigeria captain to Rio 2016 Olympic, he committed so much personal resources to ensure Nigeria won a medal in football, our only medal in Rio.

In Europe, Mikel’s achievements dwarfed that of Lawal and Amokachi combined. Apart from winning the prestigious UEFA Champions Leagues, Europa League, Mikel won the EPL titles, FA Cups, Carling Cup and other individual and club honours.

One cannot also understand the choice of Perpetua Nkwocha over Mercy Akide, nor the exclusion of Kadri Ikhana who led the Enyimba team that broke our CAF Champions League jinx.

Aruna’s Exclusion is Unexplainable
Omowumi Majekodunmi, Funke Oshinaike, Segun Toriola and Atanda Musa all played a prominent role to ensure that Nigeria dominated Table Tennis in Africa and, to some extent i,n the Commonwealth; but the achievements of Aruna Quadri on the world stage dwarf their achievements.

Since 2014, Quadri has been a force to reckon with in global table tennis. He is the first African player to win the prestigious ITTF world table tennis player of the year award. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the IOC named him the best African table tennis star of all time. Also, his victory at the 2017 Polish Open made him the first African to claim an ITTF tournament title outside Africa.

Quadri is the first Nigerian – and the second African – to make the top 18 in the monthly ranking of the world table tennis ruling body. In European Table Tennis, Quadri’s achievements for various clubs is phenomenal.

Why Dick Tiger and not Ifeajuna?
The panel that selected the 60 icons in 60 years seems confused about their terms of reference. Why include Dick Tiger, whose feats – especially beating French-Algerian Cherif Hamia to the world title in 1957 – was before our independence? But if the list compilers’ terms of reference pre-dates independence, why exclude Emmanuel Ifeajuna, the first Black African to win a gold medal in an international games when he won the gold medal in high jump at the 1954 Commonwealth Games.

The inclusion of Chika Chukwumeriji, Duncan Dokiware, Odunayo Adekuruoye, D’Tigress, Israel Adesanya and a host of others are either for political correctness or a joke taken too far.

Dangote, Adebutu over Nath Idowu and other Selfless Sports Lovers
Are cement manufacturing, rice importation and gambling now sporting events? Have Aliko Dangote and Kesington Adebutu won multiple medals in events that qualify them to be sports icons?

Aliko and Adebutu’s contributions to sports is insignificant when compared to that of Nathaniel Idowu, the man who spent millions of personal cash over several decades for football. What about Dokun Abidoye, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Rafiu Ladipo, Israel Adebajo, Omolade Okoya-Thomas, Sebastian Babatunde Williams, Madam Rangers, Lekan Salami, Baba Eleran, Muktar Mohammed Aruwa, Fabio Lanipekun, Sunny Obazu-Ojeagabse, Bola Jegede, Babtunde Oshuntolu and several others who made personal sacrifices and spent their hard earned money and talents to sports development in Nigeria. These deserve to be celebrated as icons instead of Dangote and Adebutu.

Not All Glow with Oyedeji and Others
In a country where footballers swimming in millions of dollars don’t give back to the society, the inclusion of former NBA star and President of Olumide Oyedeji Youth Foundation is commendable.

Established in 2000, Oyedeji’s foundation empowers youths using sports, and education.
The foundation has given out over 300 scholarships and empowered over 45,000 youths in more than 30 cities in Nigeria and over 20 different cities around the world like South Africa, , Angola, Senegal, Liberia, Egypt, Togo, China, Spain, Mali, Germany, South Korea, Puerto Rico and United Kingdom.

Oyedeji’s foundation has mentored youths who have also become NBA players, Olympians, accountants, lawyers, engineers and more.

The inclusion of greats such Segun Odegbami, Jighere Wellington, Odion Aikhoje, Modupe Oshikoya, Hogan Bassey, Samuel Peters, Nojeem Mayegun, Rashidi Yekini, Power Mike, Nduka Odizor M,KO Abiola and a few others are the only bright side of a list that appears compiled to reward cheats and nepotism.

OLUKAYODE THOMAS is a Lagos based reporter.