Never-do-wells, it was assumed, used to embrace sports. But all that changed with the exploits of Serena and Venus Williams. Now, Nigerian parents go out of their way to encourage their children’s participation in diverse sports, writes Charles Ogundiya
The fortune of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, in the world of tennis cannot be quantified. Only a few siblings have achieved as much in the world of sports. Venus and Serena are two professional American tennis players who have won 31 Grand Slam titles between them.
It was a story of grass to grace for the children of a former sharecropper from Louisiana, Richard Williams, who alongside his wife, Oracene Price, coached the sisters from their tender age respectively. According to history, their father watched a tennis match on TV and thought the winner received a big cheque for ‘four days’ work’.
Since turning professional at 14, the sisters have won games while losing a few. They always made an impact. They dominated the tennis scene in the early 2000s with Serena being ranked the world’s number one female tennis player for 309 weeks and Venus for 11 weeks.
Richard’s gamble on putting everything he had on making tennis stars out of his daughters paid off. According to Forbes, Serena’s estimated net worth is said to be about $150 million with Venus’s net worth estimated to be about $74 million.
Back to Nigeria where emphasis is laid on academics more than sports, things are already taking a new dimension with parents placing emphasis on the all-round performance of their children – sports, arts, music and academics. Most parents in Nigeria believe that without education, it is often difficult for their children to get to the level they want to attain in life, so they discourage them and also scold them when needs be.
“My mum was scared that football will make me wayward,” those were the words of Super Falcons’ player, Francesca Ordega, while speaking on her parents’ reaction to her choice of career as a footballer. “My mother never supported me, she kept telling me that women don’t play football, that I should face my studies.
On the other hand, my father stood by me; he was the one that encouraged me. “After my secondary school, I told them that I was leaving their house for good. My mother was scared, thinking that I might go out there and start misbehaving, but I gave her my words that I am not going to disappoint her and my father. She prayed for me and that was how I became a professional footballer.
“But it was very difficult for me when I was still at home, often times, my mother will beat me anytime I come back from training but that didn’t stop me. Thank God today, she could testify to the glory of God in my life and always appreciate God for that,” Ordega added.
So many Nigerian stars are in the same shoes as they have to cope with their parents’ insistence that they must go to school and become doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on, rather than taking sports as career.
Despite the difficulties emanating from their parents’ stance, some still stick with their decision to become an athlete, while some bow to the decision of their parents to concentrate on their academies.
Former Super Eagles defender, Obinna Nwaneri, was termed stubborn by his mother when he neglected his schooling for football. He added: “It was not easy for me at all, my parents didn’t even want me to move near football, they were forcing me to go to school but I insisted on playing football. They believed I was stubborn and it was when I made it in football they agreed with my decision.”
Ohunene and Ozioiza Yakubu’s ambition is to become like the Williams sisters despite their young age as they both play tennis, but they have been finding it difficult to cope. After competing in two different competitions within a month, winning the CBN National Junior Tennis Championship in their categories, U-10 and U-12 respectively, but they were pulled out of the SNEPCo Junior Tennis Championship by their father, John Yakubu.
The father’s reason was to allow them concentrate on their studies as they have missed classes due to so many championships within a short period. But their mother, Mrs. Jumoke Yakubu, is a former tennis player and she is really creating time for her daughters.
“I need sponsors to take them round the world for international circuits. My ambition for them is not to just win national honours. I am looking at the Grand Slam for my children.
They have started early and I am monitoring them. We have potentials in Nigeria. There are so many great players hidden in different places and some have rotten away. I am going to raise my kids to the best of my ability.
“Their father is very support-ive but he cautions us about their studies. So far, we are combining well but we are still striving to get resources to expose them further. Tennis is a beautiful sport. I still play tennis myself.
We all see what the Williams sisters have done with world tennis and we are encouraged by that achievement,” she said. Agnes Onoja, a table tennis youngster, said she was been able to combine her education with her sports due to the support from her parents, her coach and school principal. “In my school they love sports,” the CAC Grammar School, Akure, student said.
“I was allowed to concentrate on sports while not allowing my education to suffer at the same time. “Sometimes when we have tests and I happen to be in a competition, my coach would write the principal and I will be allowed to write my own test later when I return from the tournament. It has been good having such people around me; they are the ones helping me all this while.”
Furo Iyeneme, a retired footballer was of the opinion that such parents are doing a lot of disservice to their children. He said for him, his children would be allowed to engage in whatever activities they think of taking part in, whether sports, arts or music.
The former Super Eagles defender said: “I will say most of these parents are making a big mistake. I had my kids in Europe, my daughter and son play football. In Europe, you will see parents take their children out to engage in sporting activities.
It should change now because sport is a big business and a great career.” Nigeria Table Tennis queen and African champions, Funke Oshonaike, has never failed to pour encomiums on her father who, according to her, helped in making her what she is today in the sport.
The support she received from her dad while growing up was unprecedented. According to her, he has been a solid pillar behind the huge successes she recorded over the years. Oshonaike told our correspondent that she looked back at all the efforts of her father in the early years of her career.
She said: “He is such a great man. I call him my number one fan because he is always there for me. If I play 20 matches in Lagos in one day, he will see all. He loves to see me win games and if I lose, it affects him even more than me such that I will be the one consoling him to forget about the defeat. “It is always rare to see parents support their children to go into sport at a tender age but mine was different.
I had the support from both of them with a promise that I will also face my studies. Each time I want to compete, I think of the various ways my father has been motivating me to get results. “He borrowed money to buy me my first set of kits for the game – the racket (bats), trainers and jerseys.
It was tough and I knew it. There was no other option for me than to do well because of the huge support and the confidence reposed in me by my number one fan, my father.
I always work hard to make him happy by winning and winning. It gets to him anytime I lose and so it is not an option to lose a match.” Oshonaike also has four other siblings playing table tennis. ‘Small’ Taiwo Oshonaike, Kehinde Oshonaike, ‘big’ Taiwo Oshonaike and Idowu Oshonaike “It’s a sports family because our parents show understanding. But it was tough for me initially. Now we are good,” Germanybased Oshonaike noted Kunle Adeniji is a member of the Ikoyi Club 1938, and believes combination of education and sports makes a child a better person in life.
The oil and gas expert, who has two of his kids taking part in swimming for their school, said top schools in the country were no longer interested in a child’s grade but what they do in sports, arts and music.
“It is important we allow our children to explore all their talents, all the gifts they have and later allow them to choose the one they intend to pursue,” Adeniji said. “It is not all about academics anymore, even in top schools it is not just about their grades, but what they do in sports, arts and music.
The way the world is now, it is important to let the children do what they found strengths in. academics and sports go hand in hand and I am interested in allowing my kids to express themselves.
“If my children decide to take sports as a profession, I will definitely not stop them, what I will just demand from them is to at least finish their first degree. The way schools is now, you can get your degree and at the same time achieve a lot in sports.
By all means I will let them pursue their sporting career. “I am aware of the difficulties in Nigeria, but I have already decided to take my kids abroad because the facilities are not here in Nigeria to combine education with sports.
They need to compete against the best and that cannot be done here.” AbdulJabar and Iman Adama were the cynosure of all eyes at the 2017 Ikoyi Club 1938 Interschool Swimming Gala for Primary Schools, as they won seven gold medals between them.
The eight-year-old AbdulJabar won four gold medals while his sister, 10-year-old Iman, won three gold medals to emerge as the best athletes of the competition. Their father, a banker, Tunde Adama, said he was committed to the progress of the siblings in their swimming career.
Adama hopes one day, if not the two kids, one of them must be able to represent Nigeria at the Olympic Games. Speaking with our correspondent, he said he had been investing his resources since when his daughter was eight months’ old. “When my daughter was eight months’ old, I took her to the pool and she really loved the water and since then I have decided to train her in swimming.
“When she started practicing, she showed a lot of talents, same as the junior brother; they work hard and put a lot of efforts in it. I am happy that they are doing well in their chosen sport. “I am happy investing a lot in their career, not just money, but time and energy.
They have been winning within and outside the country, which has motivated me and their mother to do more while giving them all the encouragement needed to become great. “For me sport is very important even beyond what you gain like winning laurels and all, it also helps you to be disciplined.
“My kids wake up as early as 5 a.m. to prepare for their training scheduled for 6 a.m. They train all-week round, they have travelled for tournament where the weather was -4 degrees and they still entered the water, such dis-cipline has helped them to keep focus and it helped their education and so on.”
A week after the Adama siblings stole the show; it was the turn of OmoOluwani Obatoyinbo of British International School at the same venue, this time a competition for secondary school. The young Obatoyinbo won the best overall male award for his performance.
His father, Oloye Obatoyinbo, said: “In this age, sport is very critical and we must allow the kids to do that. When kids are even looking to go to the next level, say from primary to secondary, from secondary to the university, what some of these institutions look for is how rounded the kids are, the kind of sports they are excelling in. at the end of it all, it is then they say they like what they see and admit such kids.
“I have three kids in the club, OmoOluwani, 13 to 14, I have Nifemi Obatoyinbo and Fasope Obatoyinbo. They do so many other sports too, they swim, the boys play football, the boys are into karate; they play basketball and also partake in athletics.
“Initially, I allowed my children to practice whatever sports they lay their hands on, but ultimately, they have to narrow it down to which sports they want as competitive sports, which one they take as leisure.
“For example, my son decided to start with karate in his formative years, he followed that up and currently a black belt holder. When he got to that pinnacle, I started to notice his interest in swimming, football and others.
For now, karate is just like a leisure sport for him, swimming is more of his competitive sport. “Back in the days, sport was a big thing; schools usually provided the facilities and the avenue. There were a lot of competitions for the athletes in various sports.
But nowadays, nothing like that and the sports are very expensive, especially swimming. “Gone were the days when we have the facilities at the National Stadium, a lot of hotels had pools which people were making use of, but it is now more of difficulty.
“For me, I really like my kids to express themselves especially with sports, not to say education is not critical, because it is, for the most part, unless you get to the pinnacle of your sports, you can as well combine your academy with sports.
“Sport is even a better opportunity to get to some top schools across the world. You can also get scholarships and financial aids through sports – they are married together. I will continue to do my best to encourage my kids to express themselves. I will surely do all what I could to help them.”