Written By: Segun Odegbami
Let me once again admit that the past few weeks have been sad and challenging for me. Following the unnecessary ‘wasting’ of the life of Rashidi Yekini, an issue that will continue to haunt all those that led him to his untimely death, I just cannot seem to be able to get away from the matter of the life of athletes after their sports careers are over. As some sort of historian myself I cannot disregard the stories of retired sports persons who fall into the pit of joblessness, poor health, poverty, isolation and neglect when the adulation dies down and the sun sets on their once heralded careers in sport. It is hard to look back and see just a handful of athletes in the entire spectra of sports in the continent that have had a great life beyond their participation in sports.
Thats why once again I am drawn to the issue of sports and education in combination as a guide, a warning and an illumination for the millions of youngsters that are blinded by the riches and fame that sport eagerly promises but fulfils only in trickles. Only a very lucky few manage to succeed as champions in their sport, with the vast majority falling by the way side because there is room for only a few at the top. Rashidi Yekini’s death has thrown up, rather forcefully, the issue of the welfare of retired athletes.
There may be many solutions to this problem but I will never tire of singing the one song that I know best, that of the message for all African youths that the key to a successful life, beyond the short span of life in sport, is education. Getting an education is the key. For 24 years, like a broken record, I have been ‘singing’ this same song in my media interactions. I have written about it. I have granted countless interviews on it. I have championed several causes related to it, and now, in the past 6 years, I have established a school that will serve as an example for those interested in engaging the children in useful physical activity, making them healthy, exposing them to higher level of sports facilities, showcasing them in competitions, and making them the best they can be in their sport in combination with their academics. This school is intended to be a model that can be copied and duplicated in every State in Nigeria, or any country in Africa with a similar challenge, or with a similar interest in empowering the youths. Once the project is understood and the results are visible, measurable and documented, it can become a model. That was my intention. In six years my little experiment has been frustrating at first, illuminating later, and most fulfilling in the end.
This is, therefore, not an advert or a cheap publicity stunt for an institution I founded. For the second time I am presenting it as a gift to parents and guardians who are worried about the future of their children, and who desire to harness their passion, talent and interest in sport to become successful in life and escape the pangs of neglect and poverty after sport. My primary advice to all parents is to let their children play, to pursue their passion, develop their interest and hone their talent in sport within the environment of an academic or professional institution that will give them the opportunity to maximally combine their love for sport with their need for education.
I, therefore, welcome all to the world of TIA, The International Sports Academy.
My legacy to Africa!
I am a Mechanical Engineer. I was also a football player many years ago. I played for a club and for my country and won several national and international awards in the process. I captained my national team and was richly rewarded and honoured.
Since I stopped playing I have been involved in various aspects of the sports business. In the past 2 decades I have been very involved at various levels in matters of youths, sports and education to the extent that I have been made one of Nigeria’s Sports Ambassadors, Chairman of the National Institute for Sports, Nigeria’s Ambassador of the 1-Goal Education for All World Cup 2010 campaign, Chairman of the Nigeria Academicals Sports Committee, Consultant on the All Nigeria Secondary Schools football championship, member of several national and international sports bodies including the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Players Committee, and a consultant to some multinational organisations on sports matters. I also managed two Nigerian athletes to Olympic Gold and Silver medals in the course of my work with athletes. I am able to achieve all these and become a good example for younger generations simply and only because I combined my love, passion and talent in football with a good education. I came out of the combination doing relatively well in life and I am now confident to put myself up as a role model for every African child desirous of making sport a career.
6 years ago I started a school, a Senior Secondary School, for 13 to 17 year olds. It has been running for 4 years. The school provides young boys and girls with interest, talent and passion for sports, with the opportunity to combine these with a sound education. The school is called The International (Sports) Academy, TIA.
The school offers full-time, fully residential (boarding only), SS1 to SS3 classes in science, art and commercial subjects. It is a first-class institution with modern academic and sports facilities. Above all, it offers a comprehensive development programme for sport through its 5 sport academies for basketball, tennis, athletics, table tennis and football. All these sports are well-run (4 hours of sports every day of the week) and supported by international sports personalities and organizations whose interest also is to take children through 3 years of academic study in the school with the opportunity of also taking their sport to a much higher level.
TIA has been described as a laboratory of learning. Three years ago, the school was nominated as one of 35 such institutions in the world for influencing social change in the community where it is located by “Beyond Sports”, an international organization based in the United Kingdom. The results of the experiment on-going in the school have become subject of interest and study by international institutions and organisations interested in the study of the effect of the intensive combination of nutrition, sport and education at this age-range in a formal, regulated African setting.
This year TIA is signing an M.O.U of collaboration with Wayne Country Community College in Detroit, Michigan USA. With this arrangement students of TIA will have the opportunity to go through courses whilst in the school leading to an associate degree of the American college. The school will also provide preparatory classes for students that want to sit for other examinations leading to local as well as American universities. After producing 3 sets of graduates so far, the results are there for all to see. Students of TIA are presently in several universities in Nigeria and abroad pursing degree programs and still participating actively in their sport.
Parents, guardians, State and Local Governments, or even corporate organisations promoting grassroots sports, can support the education and training of their talented children in TIA. Three years in this school provide the students with a foundation that is guaranteed to make their lives after sport more beneficial and meaningful. They will get the academic qualifications, the professional proficiency or skills that would prepare them well for a better life after a successful (or not) sports career. That way the stories of sports heroes, when their careers in sport are over, would change for better forever. TIA is my legacy to the African child! We need more of such schools scattered all over Nigeria and indeed Africa!