As part of its contributions to the development of sports in Nigeria as well as ensuring continuity between the older generation of athletes and the younger ones, Heritage Bank Plc, in partnership with the Lagos State government, is targeting the youth in its forthcoming signature sports event, the Skoolimpics project.
The event which is billed to take place between November 2 and 4 at the Teslim Balogun Stadium and Rowe Park, will be bringing together, over 200 public and private secondary schools with about 6,000 students competing across all the local government areas in the state.
In his address at a media briefing in Lagos, Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Bank, Ifie Sekibo, who was ably represented by Mary Akpobome, an executive director of the bank, explained that Skoolimpics targets development of young people in order to foster their physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Physical education and sports, he said, help in character and community building, delinquency reduction, community safety, economic and social development.
He said, “It is an organized tournament, driven on the platform of education, to aid tackling the dearth of insufficient sports talents by ‘catching them young’; mentoring them by facilitating the development of their talents and dreams whilst attaining good education.”
Other objectives of the tournament, he mentioned, included creating a platform through sports where the youths will imbibe great leadership attributes and lead their communities well; grooming young athletes yearly from the grassroots, develop, train and nurture them to compete and achieve their dreams; and increasing participation in sports in order to discover more talents and future champions and Olympians.
Sekibo narrated that a look at the days of glory in sports to the present, particularly, with the recent lacklustre outing at Rio Olympics, pretty sums up the deterioration in the country’s institutional framework.
He added: “In the history of Nigerian sports, never has there been an organized competition of this magnitude for all secondary schools! The talents to be gathered in one place can only be imagined and the emotions generated will simply be electrifying: different schools from different geo-political zones; competing students from different walks of lives, cultural ideologies and languages. ‘It will be an amazing melting pot to harness youthful talents with a clearly defined national outlook’.
“I would like to underscore our vision as a generational bank, one that is poised to help create, preserve and transfer wealth across generations. This mantra of ours is evidenced in the work that the bank has done so far in empowering children and youth in the society in order to foster productivity in the economy.”
On the part of the Lagos State government, the chairman of Lagos State Sports Commission, Deji Tinubu stated that right now, there is no current school child both at the state and national level who is an athletic household name; whereas in those days, there was Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, ChidImoh, Falilat Ogunkoya, Dick Tiger, a host of others.
He then narrated that the essence of Skoolimpics was to get everybody back on track, reminding them that the country’s future stars, are the ones who are in the secondary schools now and not the ones who are training and between the ages of 20 and above.
According to Tinubu, if we don’t tap them now, if we don’t starting training them, if we don’t start nurturing them at this level, we are probably going to lose another generation of stars who would probably have made Nigeria proud. ‘That is why we are partnering with Heritage Bank’.
“All the talents that will be discovered in this maiden edition, will stay with the experts, they will be counseled, guided, spoken to and we will entertain them so that even at this age, they will begin to have the feeling of what a champion is like.
“It is not going to be one of those programmes where we do the event and then you don’t get to hear about us until another one year. It is going to be a constant thing and by the grace of God in the near future, we will be able to hold somebody’s hand as a champion. It may be regional, continental, but all traced back to why we are gathered here today.”
Taking the audience down memory lane, Skoolimpics Brand Ambassador, Mary Onyali, narrated her experience at the age of 10 right from St. Mary’s Anglican Primary School, where she was trained by volunteer coaches and her visits to fine tune her talents at Rowe Park, Yaba up to Amuwo Grammar School, Agboju, where she was always sending senior students scampering into safety whenever she featured in a competition.
By 2004, after having vested 30 years of her talents to athletes, she had made five Olympic appearances, winning two Olympic medals and tens and thousands of medals in all African games, Commonwealth games, world championships and so on.
“Nigeria has 60% of its 160million population as children and youth. This boardroom decision of Heritage Bank to start Skoolimpics is a marked effort. Here is the link: 98million Nigerians are children and the youth. They have been denied the opportunities of being greater than little Nkem (Onyali). But Heritage Bank is making Nkems of 2016 to have a greater hope and support.
“Please ask yourselves, must this situation of hopelessness continue? Can we change the situation? Yes of course, we can.I urge each and every one of you to join forces with Skoolimpics for the sake of our children in the state because once this pilot in Lagos is launched, we want to recreate on the streets of our states, greater children who are better than Nkem, who is sitting right here before you and talking to you.”