Super Eagles in easy match. Lee Evans ‘resurrects’!

Super Eagles

Tomorrow, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will soar some how, any how, against the minnows from Sao Tome. The victory will cement Nigeria’s route to Cote D’Ivoire in January 2024 when the African Cup of Nations, AFCON 2024, begins.

Before tomorrow’s low-key encounter, Nigeria had already qualified for the AFCON with one match left to be played. So, there is no pressure on the Super Eagles when they return to Uyo, the city with the best football ground in Nigeria currently. It should be an easy match, one that will be good advertisement for a new, winning Super Eagles.

Even the great Arsene Wenger, former legendary manager of Arsenal FC, was quoted last week to have described the Super Eagles as ‘under-achievers’ considering the quality and quantity of Nigerian players playing at the highest levels of football in Europe.

Wenger is right. That’s partly why I had the audacity to ‘arrogantly’ and ‘recklessly’ predict, last week, that Nigeria shall not only win AFCON 2024, but shall also use that success as a springboard to kick-start a new era in Nigerian football. It will also serve as a catalyst for faster development of the Sports industry in the country, as fuel for Sport and Diplomacy to drive the global cause of the African, and to justify leading West Africa to jointly bid for and host the 2034 FIFA World Cup. The height of my prediction is that the Super Eagles will win it!

So, for the match tomorrow, I send my best wishes to the Super Eagles.

The next big Sports development project!

These days, my head only conjures and relates with big dreams. Nigerians should look forward to the end of November this year.

A small seed is being planted in the ancient city of Abeokuta in Nigeria from which a sports event of global dimension shall sprout and add great value to any current effort to grow sports at the grassroots.

Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy, SOCA, in conjunction with all relevant sports authorities, is organising the first Lee Evans Memorial Annual International Invitational Athletics Meet, an event that shall catalyse the revival of effective sports programs in schools for the development of sprinters and jumpers for Nigeria by borrowing a leaf from a formular that has taken Jamaica from ‘nowhere’ to become the ‘Sprinting and Jumping’ capital of world athletics. Other Caribbean Islands are latching on fast to that formula of tapping into the already abundantly available natural resource of people with the basic genetic ingredients found in the descendants of West and Central Africans. These ingredients make them naturals with great advantage for some sports events that require power, speed and strength.

The East Africans have used the advantage of their geography, the high altitudes in the Eastern part of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda) to breed humans that have been dominating middle and long distance races forever. Egypt, Morocco and Algeria have also been exploiting their ties with desert conditions to also breed tireless long-distance runners.

West Africans, particularly Nigerians, have always been known to harbour nature’s gifts of physique and power that produce excellent sprinters, boxers and jumpers. Even a casual look at Nigeria’s greatest successes reveals the preponderance of sports events requiring explosive speed and power – the sprints and jumps. The evidence is found in the long list of some of the best athletes in the country’s history – Chioma Ajunwa, Gloria Alozie, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume, Modupe Oshikoya, Christy Okpara-Thompson, Innocent Egbunike, Sunday Bada, Ene Udo Obong, the Ezinwa brothers, Charlton Ehizuelen, Yusuf Ali, Olapade Adenekan and so on. All these goddesses and gods of athletics have either been sprinters or jumpers, or both.

What has been missing in establishing a proper tradition of excellence in the world is a clear vision of a production line with institutions, curriculum, process, facilities, funds and the ‘drivers’.

The most important resource, the gifted boys and girls, are in abundance in secondary schools all over Nigeria, waiting and wasting like flowers in the desert. What are needed are programmes within the schools to identify the talented ones, a program on how to train them, and high-level competitions to complete the honing process.

Developing young talents does not require knowledge of rocket science. A system once existed and worked well in Nigeria. Schools bred the best young athletes that eventually went on to compete for Nigeria, even though the final honing process still required a transition to the American collegiate system.

The good news is that late Lee Evans has been ‘resurrected’ in a new athletics project starting in November 2023 to complete the work he started in SOCA.

Lee Edward Evans was a legendary African/American athlete, one of the greatest sprinters in history – Double Olympic Gold medalist, World Record Holder for over two decades with world records in 11 different sprints events. When he became a coach, he was recognised as one of the best sprints coaches in the world.

The last 8 years of his life were spent in Nigeria with the last two as a teacher and head coach of athletics at the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy in Wasimi, near Abeokuta. He helped to create a pathway for several of the student/athletes in the school to transit to American colleges to further develop their sports talents. His ultimate dream was to establish a local training program with indigenous facilities so that the annual migration to America by a few would be complimented by development for most others here in Nigeria.

Lee spent a good part of his life as a coach of athletics in Nigeria, with stints in the University of Ife, the National Sports Commission of Nigeria, Cross Rivers State and Lagos State. He intermittently led several Nigerian national athletics teams to various meets for several decades from the 1970s to the 1990s.

He died over two years ago, and was buried inside the campus of SOCA where he now rests peacefully,

His name and international influence are now to become tools of this new program, fueling and driving a most ambitious ‘sprints and jumps’ development program in Nigeria.

It is not by accident that Jamaica has become the sprinting capital of the world. SOCA is adopting the Jamaican model (and more) to ensure a rich harvest of great sprinters and jumpers of world-class standards from the international competition. The catalysing agent is COMPETITION!

SOCA has chosen to immortalise Lee Evans and his great works by establishing this international athletics event and naming it after him. It will involve schools and clubs from Nigeria and several other countries. It will drive renewal of interest in sports within schools, and to fast-track athletics development.

The first edition of the Lee Evans Memorial Annual International Invitational Athletics Meet, comes up this year from November 21 to 26.

Selected schools in Nigeria and abroad are being invited to send in student/athletes, boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18, for the event. 24 schools in all are expected to participate. Athletics-proper shall be for two-days. There shall be other social engagement programmes attached to make the event memorable for all those that attend. Scouts from Europe, the USA and even the Caribbean Islands will be around to scout for gifted athletes amongst participants for their Collegiate programs. The children are guaranteed some of the best times of their lives. They will be accommodated in the posh, secure and luxurious environment of Green Legacy Hotel, inside the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library complex with its first class facilities in leisure, recreation, theme parks, a zoo, museums of history, art and culture, cinemas and so on.

The events shall be in sprints and jumps only, and shall take place on the tracks and field of the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abeokuta.

Very Special guests from the world of Sport and Diplomacy, including some of Lee Evans’ African/American Colleagues from the United States may be attending to honour him and to be a part of the historic Mausoleum to be built around his graveside in Wasimi Orile.

Through Lee Edward Evans, Nigerian athletics will have a new platform to take off and join the league of the best in the world within a very short time, indeed. Coming this November. Watch out.

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