It is often said that the journey of thousand miles begins with one step. However, a step is not just good enough nowadays but “steps in the right direction”. The challenges of completing any task sometimes may kill the dreams of fulfillment at birth. Determination and resilience are essentials if a task is to be completed, hence the end justifies the means.
The just ended 9th CAC Canoe Sprint Championship/Continental Qualifiers to the Olympic Games in Paris hosted by Nigeria remains the best. Despite the challenges encountered on the already bumpy road of preparation, the fact that fourteen of the eighteen countries which signed up for the championship competed with their Nigeria counterparts signposts success. Four other countries could not participate due to financial challenges in their country. While most of them were coming to Nigeria for the first time, it should be noted that they were not in the country for social parade but a keen contest in eight available slots for the Paris Olympic Games next summer. Top rated African countries in Canoe-Tunisia, South Africa, Morocco- alongside Egypt, Mozambique, Angola, Ghana, São Tomé & Principe, Seychelles, Senegal and Nigeria presented canoeists in C1 200 meters Women , C2 500 meters Women , C1 1000 meters Men , C2 500 meters Men, K1 1000 meters Men, K2 500 meters Men, K1 500 meters Women, K2 500 meters Women.
Lest we forget, Nigeria had secured the hosting rights for the championship in July after International Canoe Federation President, Thomas Konietzko expressed satisfaction with the facilities and organization of Admiral Porbeni Africa Boat Championship where team Nigeria emerged overall champions. This afforded the opportunity to use familiar terrain to secure global spots. In retrospect, often times, raising funds to prepare athletes for international qualifying events has never been an easy task. The hosting rights not only helped Nigeria save cost but also improve on its organization and development of the sport’s facilities. It is noteworthy, through international collaboration and efforts by President, Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation, Boat championships have gained prominence in Nigeria in the last decade. The inclusion of the sport in National Sports Festivals and National Youth Games schedules is an acknowledgment of its importance.
From Slalom expert, Jonathan Akinyemi at the 2012 London Olympics through Rowing Queen Chierika Ukogu at the 2016 Rio Games and Canoe’s next global stars , Ayomide Bello & Esther Toko at the Tokyo Olympics, the sport has grown with its sprout connected to a solid grassroots foundation.
In the face of limited sponsorship and inadequate funding, Admiral Festus Porbeni and his board members continue to source for funds to keep the sport sailing. For instance, through tested and trusted collaborations, Nigeria attracted renowned World Canoe Boats manufacturer-Nelo- to donate canoe equipment. First is to aid competition at the Olympic qualifiers, second is to build capacity of facilities at the national boat centre in Abuja which had commenced manufacturing made-in-Nigeria boats in 2022. The Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation did not only pay for the shipment of the equipment to Lagos from Portugal, it is currently holding negotiations to permanently buy the boats at a reduced price. Upon arrival at the ports, the equipment were delayed due to bureaucratic bottlenecks. Even when the Minister of Sports Development Senator John Enoh and his counterpart in the ministry of finance alongside the Comptroller General of Customs intervened, saboteurs of constituted authorities still attempted to frustrate the process. Delay is not denial, the boats arrived six days late to the venue of its intended use. No thanks to the actions of Nigeria Port officials. It is noteworthy that the smallest Nelo-made boat which measures 5.2 meters has a least cost of 3,000 USD; when calculated by 15 units , the total price to be paid at the current exchange rate of dollar to naira is best imagined. Yet, the Federation is not resting on its oars until it secures these boats for use by Canoeists in Nigeria .
For an Olympic sport that has six categories in Canoe Slalom, ten categories in Canoe Sprint and fourteen in Rowing , Nigeria surely has a greater chance of multiple podium finishes at the Olympics. Since Nigeria’s first medal at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, Nigeria has won 27 medals(3 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze). Why not invest in Rowing and Canoe? Although, Esther Toko, Beauty Otuedo, Ayomide Bello and more, are expected to qualify, the sport offers rays of optimism of Olympic Medals in Paris and latter Olympics than any other sport in Nigeria. A fraction of funds channeled to other team events in the 59 year history of Olympic participation would not only qualify Nigeria into all 30 categories of the sport at the Olympics, but , enhance chances of more medals. Just a reminder, Nigeria has an enviable coastal lines and riverine areas where citizen use inherent strength to paddle canoe for fishing, transport and other daily activities on water. 2024 Paris Games are so close but the 2028 Games in Los Angeles will be a perfect time for Nigeria to upset the apple cart and assert that it is the new force in Rowing and Canoe.
Lest we forget, the Jabi Lake is artificial. Initially built to generate electricity for the FCT. After series of negotiations and paper work, a portion of the 13square kilometer landmark was released to the Federation for the purpose of developing Rowing and Canoe . The challenges of coping with activities of fun seekers, indigent fishermen, , water stunt experts , and of course, scavengers, wanderers who constitute nuisance on and around the lake are constant headaches for administrators of the sport to cope with. The buoys, well laid on the lanes at a huge cost, suffer regular damages by activities of these individuals who are very difficult to persuade and manage.
The attention of the Federation was drawn to the negative publication in some quarters on events heralding the final day of the CAC Africa Canoe Sprint Championship/Continental Qualifiers for Olympic Games . It should be stated that the heavy downpour on Saturday, November 25 and early hours of Sunday November 26, washed off all structures set up for a befitting final. Within six hours of concerted efforts, the stage was set again. This was not devoid of some damages which could not be reversed in days. Should we have stopped the final and suffer sanctions from the international body who had its officials on ground or manage the situation at hand? It is rather unfortunate that those who concentrated energy on publicizing flashes of uncontrollable circumstances at the championship could have done better rather than a bias in reportage. At a day and age when anybody with a smart phone can easily make a video of anything, it is apt that professionalism should prevail. If efforts directed to displaying the positives in our dear country Nigeria are ongoing at different levels , what joy do we derive in pulling down our fabrics in a public space well monitored by haters of the country, enemies of Nigeria and those who concentrate on 1% fault despite 99% successful actions? We call on those who have attempted to discredit the voluntary commitment to develop Rowing and Canoe in Nigeria to join hands and make the sport better. Our windows are open for information backed up with facts and figures. Our transparent approach, dedication and resilience are our pillars of strength. We will not be deterred, neither will we succumb. Maturity and common sense should prevail with objective reportage rather than misleading the public. In the midst of this, Nigeria hosted the the International Canoe Federation coaches course in Abuja with participants from Angola, Mozambique São Tomé and Principe, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Republic of Benin, Togo, Ghana and Seychelles. This is in addition to the certification of International Technical Officials who are now set to take up roles at tournaments sanctioned by the International Canoe Federation (ICF). Should we not be proud of this?
Lest we forget, International Canoe Federation President Thomas Konietzko, Confederation of Africa Canoe President Joao Manuel Da Costa Alfonso Alegre, top echelon of World Canoe Federation joined Sports Development Minister Senator John Enoh and Admiral Festus Porbeni for this historic event. History will never be forgotten. Pictures do not lie,facts cannot be disputed, Nigerians cannot continue to harp on one-off things when multiple things to celebrate abound.
According to President, Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation, Admiral Festus Porbeni, mni CFR
“ As long as I live, even when I’m gone, as I have instructed my estate managers, this sport will continue to grow until Nigeria becomes a global force. World Championships and Olympic medals will become our birth rights in this sport . It will surely happen but before then, let all hands be on deck”
Lest we forget, we cannot attract what we attack, let us all join hands and support Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation efforts to crest Nigeria’s name in gold.
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