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I want to improve Nigeria’s participation, performance in Olympics – Nezianya

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MAYwe know you sir?
My name is Hon Tony Obiora Nezianya, a member and former PRO of Nigeria Olympic Committee, who is campaigning again for the same post, the chairman of the Nigeria Triathlon Union. I worked in the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) between 1983 and 2016.

I joined NAN as a reporter before rising through the ranks as a resourceful reporter, to the position of Managing Editor and Head of Sports Desk of the Agency . I served as a Zonal Manager in charge of the five South-East states, with regional headquarters in Enugu. Before then, in 1992, I was elected as Chairman of Lagos State Chapter of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), a position I held for three years. I also served for two terms of four years each on the Executive Board of Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) as its Public Relations Officer (PRO).

From this vantage position, I was named as Media Officer of Team Nigeria to the 2003 All Africa Games, which Nigeria hosted and eventually emerged the overall champions by topping the overall medals table. I served as leader of Nigerian delegation to Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, India in 2003, before later serving as Head of Media, Team Nigeria, to other Games, including 2002 Commonwealth Games, tagged Manchester Games, the “2006 Melbourne Games,” “2004 Athens Olympic Games in Greece,” t and “2008 Beijing Games in China.”

I had in the course of my duty tour in the NOC, been Media Officer to 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers, after I had in 1987 covered 4th All Africa Games in Nairobi, Kenya. I hold a Diploma in Journalism from Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra, which I obtained in 1982. I later obtained Higher National Diploma (HND) in Book Publishing from Yaba College of Technology.

I also obtained an Advanced Diploma in Journalism from Times Journalism Institute (TJI), Lagos .I also possess a Diploma, an Advanced Diploma in Sports Management from National Institute for Sports (NISports), National Stadium, Lagos. I am a widely travelled journalist, who has traversed the African continent and indeed virtually all the continents of the World, serving humanity through the message of sports. I served on the boards of Nigeria Wrestling Federation (NWF), Handball Federation of Nigeria (HFN). I am currently serving on the board of National Triathlon Union as an Executive Board member. I also served on Enugu Zonal Sub-seat of Local Organising Committee (LOC) for FIFA U-17 World Cup, since 2009 as its Head of Media. I was born on 30th November, 1958 and married with children.

So you have been a PRO of Nigeria Olympic committee before?

Yes, from 2001-2009. I was its PRO of the committee, and now I am re-contesting for that same position.
What do you hope to do differently in NOC if you eventually become its PRO again?

Well, it is because there is a missing link in our performance in Olympic competitions and in our preparation for recent Olympic Games. As we all know, the Olympic is the highest sporting movement in the world. We got it up to a point, but there was a slide when I left the office. My successor tried his best but of course he was limited by the type of opportunities that I have and the type of knowledge I had because I attended the Olympia.

During my time, we enlightened and educated many Nigerians concerning the opportunities in participating in the Olympics. Many publications were written especially on budding athletes, the benefits of participating in such scholarships and so on. My successor could not push it further from where I stopped, so we are on a mission inspired by President of NOC, Habu Gumel, who is an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.

We tasked ourselves with the call to revolutionalise Olympic competition by re-awakening popular consciousness of Nigerians and cultivate fresh zeal to excel at Olympics to rewrite recent mediocre performances by ,Nigeria at Olympics games.

But governments at all levels — local, national and continental — must play their parts for the youth of our future to find their paths and realise their dreams. This is more so because even the UN as an international organisation for world peace and security recognises sports as one of the index of development.

Therefore, I am of the firm belief that the emancipation of the nation from current social, economic and political squalid position is closely linked to development of sports. Understanding and planning for the youth of now and in future is the beginning of the long-lasting solution to economic prosperity of the nation.

It is the economically developed nations that are also doing well in sports. This has been scientifically proven. I have also come to the conclusion that the spirit of Olympism must permeate our daily living, social, economic and political firmament. This means that it must reach the very base of our humanity

So, when and where will the election take place?
In Yola, Adamawa State, on December 20.
How has the campaign been going and how winners emerge at the election?
There are 32 voting members of NOC, but one would have to campaign to the different sports federation in Nigeria, because they are affiliates of NOC promoting Olympic movement . As you may know, there are Olympic sports and non Olympic sports, but you must campaign to them all of them nevertheless.

What are the criterion for vying and voting in NOC election?
You must be a member of NOC. You must belong to an Olympic Sport Federation or Association. For example, I belong to Nigerian Triathlon Union where I am also an executive member. In the last eight years, I have been an executive member in Nigeria Wrestling Federation and Nigeria Handball Association

So you’re in the race for NOC PRO to raise the bar on Olympic preparations and performance above where it is at present ?
Yes! Exactly!
In what areas do you think your magic wand or Midas touch will specifically address in Nigeria athletics?
We have facilities and equipment that are not up to international standard and some sports don’t even have a stadium. In the whole of Anambra State, the only standard athletic stadium we have is in Oba. Enugu doesn’t even have standard tartan tracks. What they have is an eight-lane track and out of which on six lanes rather than 10 lane tracks are effective .

There are few standard athletics stadium. Even the one in Lagos has been out of service for almost 10 years. Abuja National Stadium is wearing down rapidly. That is why most of our athletes are foreign based, because after most our athletes train here with the poor facilities, they are very likely to flop when they meet a standard stadium. Athletics is a breeding sport . We train young athletes to break to stardom.

There are some fundamental things that we have to put in place, such as re-jigging Olympic trials and heats as credible platforms to test run our facilities as well Olympic medal potentials . Trial competition will let us know who is fit enough and qualified enough to take global challenges at Olympics.

We need a re-birth of the Olympic movement in Nigeria. We need a kind of education through media to reach out to corporate sponsors that may provide necessary financial back bone to bring out stars. And also, we need to appeal to schools to be able to provide some basics athletics needs. I must praise Anambra State through the sport commission. If a school does not have a certain number of grounds for sports, the school will not be approved. Most stadiums have artificial fields which are also not up to global standard.

You said you’re still an executive member of Nigeria Triathlon Union?
Yes.
Has Nigeria participated in this event at Olympic Games in the past?
No. This will be our first time should we meet the criteria.

Can you explain briefly how a Triathlon goes on?
Triathlon competition is a three-in-one sport where we have athletes who earn points in cycling, sprinting and swimming rolled into one event. Although it might be our first time in Olympics Games, the Association has been in existence for quite some time and a lot of ground work is being done. I am the only person from Anambra State and in the entire South East in the Association. And I am currently trying to form clubs and Associations here in Anambra State and the whole of the South East. So, we can have coaches and participants.

We have a velodrome, that is a cycling track in Abuja now. But it is not being used to do anything which is a very big challenge for us. Another big challenge we face is the fact that there are few Olympic size standard swimming pools in Nigeria except those in Port-Hacourt, Lagos and Bauchi .

How often are IOC meetings held?
Every two months.
How many people represent Nigeria on IOC Board?
We only have one who is our NOC President, Habu Gumel, And I think it’s very poor, because the more representatives you have in IOC, the more influence your country wields in Olympics. Senegal has three IOC members, Kenya has three as well, Rwanda has two. But Nigeria has one, who I say is Gumel. It was through my efforts, alongside him and other colleagues that we tried our best to make sure Gumel represented us in the IOC.

Was their any other Nigerian member of IOC before Gumel?
Yes, he was the late General Henry Adefope. But on attainment of 80 years of age, you become a ceremonial member, rather than an active member of the IOC. Members do not retire.

Have you represented Nigeria as an athlete in any competitive sports at Olympic or any other Games?
No, I have not.

What then drives your passion for preservation of Olympic movement in Nigeria?
Well, I started as a sport journalist with Nigeria Agency of News. I have covered four Olympic Games and few Common Wealth Games and All Africa Games. I also went to Sport Institute, a sport school in Lagos, where I studied Sport Management. I am also the director of Olympic Academy in Nigeria. I am very passionate about the youths engaging in sports.

You know, once upon a time highest paid sportsperson from Nigeria, Hakeem Olajuwan, started as a hand ball player but because of his height, he switched to basketball and he got a schorlarship. There are enough tall youths in this country but they do not engage in any sports whatsoever. There is a certain Anambra boy, Muoneke, I cannot remember the other name.

He is a respected basket baller in America but he started his career by representing Australia. Through sports, we can fight drug abuse, because as a sport individual, you cannot engage in drugs. You will be banned and according to psychologists researchers, sport people are brainy people. Sports fight Poverty. We need sponsors especially private entities to organize competitions. I have flown round the world which is through sports.

Is this Adamawa’s first time of hosting NOC election?
Yes, Lagos has been hosting the election regularly until Bayelsa in 1999 and that was the first time NOC generated N5 million. Since then, we have been holding elections and periodic other meetings as well in different states.

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