Developing Nigeria’s Usain Bolt

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Tayo Balogun

I have always been an admirer of John Momoh, Chairman of Channels TV. First, as a newscaster at NTA, progressing to start some 20 years ago what was then a small television station devoted almost exclusively to presenting news. And lately, as the man, who would change the face of sport in this country.

As a newscaster, he eased into the circle of great and outstanding personalities like Nelson Ipaye, Mike Enahoro and Bode Alalade. He was certainly one of the best there was in those glorious days of NTA. He was painstaking and thoroughly professional. Little wonder he now owns, perhaps, the best television news network in Africa and in the process changing the face of television in our country in much the same way Nduka Obaigbena glamourised newspaper production.

But perhaps the most outstanding thing about John is his ability to grow things and nurture them to greater heights. A striking illustration is how he has been able to grow his television network from a small two rooms outfit to the two edifices it now occupies in Lagos and Abuja.

Today, my intention is to draw your attention to a quiet revolution that has been started by Channels TV in sport. Some 10 years ago, he told me he was worried about the deteriorating situation in our sport and said he would like to do something about it. The result was the birth of the highly successful Channels TV International Kids Cup competition that has been running since then.

Last year, an intervention in athletics followed. This was what he told the press ten years ago.

“…to address what we at Channels Television see “as a clear and present danger” facing sports in our country, we have decided to contribute our quota in redressing the ugly situation that sport in Nigeria has been plunged into by doing something to redress the situation.”

The Channels International Kids Cup has become a rave in primary schools all over the country so much so that neighbouring countries have continued to show interest. More importantly, some of the products of that competition have graduated to both the country’s cadet national football teams. There was a time the NFF promised to adopt the competition in selecting players for the proposed National Under-13 team.

Last year, the maiden edition of the Channels Under-17 Track & Field Classics for Secondary School students kicked off. The success achieved is indicative that truly talents abound in this country.

One of the winners at the Classics, Alumot Alowonle, went on to represent Nigeria and has been tipped as a budding star. Another outstanding athlete in last year’s event was gangling Fatola Adedoyin of Oreyo Grammar School who many believe may turn out to be our own version of Jamaican Usain Bolt.

At the moment, the competition is limited to schools in Lagos but by next year there are plans to involve other states of the country. Last year’s tournament had eight events competed for. It has been increased to ten this year.

According to officials of the Classics, there is a plan in place to train discovered athletes for greater exploits.

I believe the seed being sown in sport by Channels Tv would grow much like the television station itself has grown and even if we do not have products of the Classics in the next Olympics, I have no doubt that in the next few years, talents discovered now will be world beaters sooner than later.

I will be at the finals today and am certain we would see more revelations about the talents that abound in the country. Perhaps, soon we will have our own Usain Bolt and recreate the glorious period of 1970/80s when we were one of the best, rubbing shoulders with the greats. That is where we belong.

In the meantime, I think our sport authorities should do all that they can to support the noble venture of hunting for and developing talents from the grassroots. Catching them young is a culture that we must nurture.

I expect in no distant future to see graduates of these Channels TV ventures not only wearing our national colours but also running and playing for world renowned clubs. And when this happens, we should remember to thank the Channels TV organisations.

By the way, I wrote this piece not because I have a working relationship with Channels TV but because I believe every word.

May the LORD bless our nation.