The Stigmatization of a Sportsman

FROM THE GOLDMINE By Enefiok Udo-Obong

By Enefiok Udo-Obong

The attack and criticism was totally off colour and uncalled for. A journalist had put in a reply to a tweet by Super Eagles midfielder John Ogu. The midfielder (who seems to be getting very vocal on social issues and rightly so) had criticized Lagos State lawmaker Desmond Elliot on the latter’s plan to regulate social media. A renowned journalist, famous only for being a host in the defunct HITV, shut him up, criticizing Ogu and telling him to face football and not politics as he is a professional footballer. This was not only ill-advised but very myopic and wrong. The responses on his twitter feed hopefully should make him realise that. Ogu may be a footballer but he has rights to speak too and more importantly, because he is a footballer does not make him incapable of other things.

I never downplay my achievements. No, certainly not. I may not gloat or boast about it but I certainly know that winning an Olympic Gold Medal is not commonplace, especially in a country like mine where we have had only three Gold medals in our whole history, won by 30 people. (One by an exceptionally talented lady, Chioma Ajunwa, another by a very gifted football team of 23 players and the third by the great effort of a superb 4 x 400m relay team of 6 individuals which I was an integral part of). To put that in context, only 30 people in a country of 180million people can lay claim to be an Olympic Gold medallist. That is 0.0000162162 per cent of the population and statistically, that is an insignificant number. So you will understand when I have the feeling of a rare breed.

The rarity doesn’t stop there. With the risk of sounding braggadocious, I am the only male multiple Olympic medallist. The honour I share with only two other female Nigerian Olympians, so one can see why I feel entitled to a special place in my country’s history.

However, while I appreciate the recognition given me in certain social circles, I cringe at the ‘stigmatization’ of my person as being just a ‘sport person’.

I was once selected to give a key remark in a large high school reunion. I was scheduled to speak immediately after a classmate of mine who was a doctor. After standing for some eternal minutes listening to his citation of university education, his professional fellowships and how he has self-financed his specialist course in the United Kingdom. I was later simply introduced, when it was my turn, as an ‘Olympic Gold medallist. While the cheer I received was the loudest, I was quick to remind all around that I had a stellar university education at the College of Medical Sciences, and had self-sponsored my studies for my Masters in Sports Administration in Switzerland while simultaneously pursuing my professional qualifications and running a great business start-up in which I had employed over one hundred people.

This I had hoped would make people understand that there is more to just sports in that body of mine.

During a corporate dinner, I was introduced to a business executive. After telling him of my business interests and successes in a struggling market, my host cheekily added, “And he is an Olympic Gold Medallist”. Well it seemed to be the only words that the executive heard as he inquired about my sport and my race before adding, “When are you going to produce more athletes like you?” While I am a pretty good coach with requisite knowledge and qualification, I was not mooted as such to him and I am not even actively coaching. So I actually felt very insulted by the generalization that as a former athlete, I must transit into a coach. It is one of the most common errors of conclusion as to the capability or usefulness of a sports person in Nigeria that after their active sports career, its only coaching that they may have the ability to do. I politely had to tell the executive that since he was once a student that probably did well in his exams in college, I would like to know when he would become a teacher and produce more “exam passing” students?

Only recently while discussing politics with some colleagues, one person impertinently said to me that I should “leave politics alone and stick to sports.” I was not a bit amused. It was because they had a concept of stigmatization that a sports man is all brawl and no brain. I was not diplomatic in reminding him that as a qualified lawyer, he should not have dabbled into politics. Also questioning if he thought politics was a profession? Our politicians are lawyers, business leaders, doctors, etc. so a sportsman being a politician or knowledgeable in politics is not nouvelle.

It must be understood that a great sportsman is human just like any other person, only with the added talent of being very good in sports and to many of these well-groomed athletes, sports is just an ad-hoc responsibility and not their main profession.

And so, when next a politician is brought to be accountable or anything close to that, we should all remember that politics is more of a responsibility than a career. And yes, the professional actor, Desmond Elliot knows this.