Complete Sports' radio show, Sports Planet (SP) anchorman, TUNDE KOIKI speaks to Steven Okolie-Odene, the organiser of the Mr Flex Nigeria body-building competition. Okolie-Odene talks about Bodybuilding as a sport and his organisation, Steco Production's spirited programmes towards making bodybuilding a popular and lucrative professional sport in Nigeria. Excerpts…
SPORTS PLANET: Could you be so kind enough to introduce yourself? Tell us who you are and what it is that you do.
Steven Okolie-Odene: My name is Steven Okoli-Odine, I’m the President, Steco Productions and the organizers of Mr. Flex Nigeria. We are into sports promotion and some other things.
Mr. Flex Nigeria is one of Nigeria’s biggest and most well known bodybuilding competitions, am I correct? So, how long has this competition been in existence?
The maiden edition of Mr. Flex Nigeria was organised in 2011. To be precise, we did it at Rockview Hotel on September 28, 2011.
Was it the Rockview Hotel in Abuja?
It was the Rockview Hotel in Apapa, Lagos where we held the first and second editions of the competition. The fifth edition was recently held at the National Stadium, Lagos.
A lot of people see bodybuilding as a sport, how do you classify it, is it an art or a sport?
Firstly, it’s an art and secondly, it’s a complete sport. I call it a complete sport because bodybuilding embodies every aspect of sports. For you to be a sportsman, you have to go and work out yourself for fitness, although, we see bodybuilders as miscreants in Nigeria. This is another reason that gave me the inspiration to start organizing the Mr. Flex Nigeria competition. Nigerians see bodybuilders as touts, thugs and bodyguards, which make them (body-builders) not to be given any sort of recognition in the society. And I took it upon myself to promote the sport. Like twenty years ago, I was a bodybuilder and I was very big but I was a little bit discouraged then due to the low level of encouragement I got. When you approach anybody for support for a competition, they would look down on you which made me stop and I had to do some other things for me to get my fitness. But sixteen years after, I had to come back. When I went to the National Stadium, I found out that bodybuilding had already died. You will see a lot of people who have a lot of flair for body-building start going to night clubs as bouncers and the fact is that bodybuilding is a professional sport.
Arnold Schwarzenneger started his life as a bodybuilder and a whole lot of other stars. What we intend to do is to go from street to street, gym to gym and tell them the good things about themselves that this is what they can do with their body. And I can tell you that since the inception of Mr. Flex Nigeria, I can name at least four Nigerians who have used that platform to travel abroad and they are doing extremely well as professional bodybuilders. We are trying to give life to body-builders and tell the athletes that God has given them a special gift and they should be able to develop it. We also tell them good things about them and not really to condemn them.
But when you look at the average Nigerian, the average Nigerian is a big, strong, very powerful and physically imposing individual which means that the talent for bodybuilding is enormous in Nigeria, but why is it that despite everything, despite the challenges and what people say about it being a sport for miscreants, it still manages to thrive on the underground, not in the mainstream? You still have young men and women who are still pushing weights on the street corners and trying to develop their bodies, why has it been so hard to kill?
It’s a gift and when you are identified with a gift that God has given to you and you manage such gift well, you must excel. Nigerians have it already, we are gifted bodybuilders, there is no two ways about it. So, if Nigerians could just go an extra mile to build their bodies, they will surely excel. That is why lots of Nigerians today travel abroad to countries like U.S.A, South Africa, England, Belgium, Spain and a whole lot of them, you see Nigerians representing other countries and they are fantastic bodybuilders because the gift is already in them. Even as you are now (referring to Tunde Koiki), just give yourself two years of consistent trainings, you can be a competitive bodybuilder, but this is something that will take some people from other countries about six to eight years to develop but it’s a gift from God right here in Nigeria. Now, we need to encourage our athletes and youths to go full time in bodybuilding. Some people, though, are scared of the end result when they probably stop body-building but I tell them that’s no problem at all. If you look at me, I was very massive but look at me today, I’m very okay. I’m close to fifty years in age and nobody would ever believe that.
Whao! So, you are close to fifty? You look 25 actually…
People would hardly know because it would make you look fit. So, that is just how
it goes. Bodybuilding is a complete sport.
I have to ask you, you have talked about it being a complete sport, an art, a sport, how people like Arnold Schwarzenneger started out their careers as bodybuilders and ended up being actors and even contested and became a governor. So, what are the potentials for body-building?
Like what I try as much as possible to create now, like after the 2015 Championship of Mr. Flex Nigeria. I am trying to run a very good seminar similar to a workshop where we will begin to sensitize and teach Nigerian body-builders. Not only bodybuilders, though, even all athletes in Nigeria, how to condition, how to prepare and how to do a whole lot of things to prepare for competitions. I found out that our wrestling and boxing are even going down as of today because of some certain things these sportsmen are lacking. They don’t know how to prepare for championships, even our sprinters today, the same thing goes for them, you will see them roaming around, not knowing how to compete.
And another problem we have is our government. Our leaders today who can’t even support some of these sportsmen. At least, in those days, government supported sportsmen a lot. I played football very well. In fact, I would say I was among the first set of boys who was called up for the Nigeria Under 17 team in 1985. We also need to start encouraging our youths very well. This will help Nigeria to develop and there would be a lesser degree of violence. They will tell you that body-builders are bodybuilding to cause violence.
That is usually the argument: that all these people that are training to have big chests, big biceps and big muscles are the same ones that politicians are going to use to cause havoc and mayhem.
No. I tell people that body-builders are peacekeepers. If you are a professional body-builder, it is no sin to be a bouncer, it is no sin to be a security personnel but how do you go about it? It depends on your mindset, when you want to go for a security posting as a bodybuilder. You have to undergo some trainings, you have to know how you can interact with people, how to behave and comport yourself and a whole lot of other things which they are lacking.
But by the special grace of God, I want to do something, I want to start this with the 2015 winners. I would like to to give them jobs, make them feel secured that they don’t need to go to clubs to make money, neither do they need to go and join politicians. Even if they have to join politicians, they have to do so, teaching the politicians what they don’t know. We are trying to make them good ambassadors of the sport. They could even be used as models for adverts. Bodybuilders also fit in as actors in the movie industry. And most of them are even graduates. We want to tell Nigerians that body-builders have come to reign and stay in Nigeria. We have to change the negative mindset that Nigerians have about body-builders.
One of the most serious problems in global bodybuilding is the issue of drugs and steroids. How do you plan to continue this fight to ensure that bodybuilding continues to remain a clean sport devoid of drug and steroid use, so that it can become a more attractive sport to people because everybody thinks every bodybuilder is on steroids or some kind of drugs?
You see, there are natural bodybuilders and I can tell you that 85 to 90 percent of Nigerian body-builders are natural bodybuilders.
When you say natural bodybuilders, what do you mean?
When I say natural bodybuilders, I mean they are gifted, so what they just need to do is to add some suplements, normal and proper medically approved suplements that will help their health and muscles, not the steroid type. Like Mr. Flex Nigeria, we don’t allow it, we carry out rigorous medical tests and a day to the beginning of the competition, we take the results of the tests to the laboratory.
Like in 2015, we disqualified about 15 contestants because we wanted them to have a belonging. By the time they travel abroad and compete, I will give you two instances: google Prince Bada Lekan and Richard Aluko. They are both natural bodybuilders and there are lots of them doing well internationally as natural bodybuilders. We simply don’t encourage the use of steroids and drugs professionally.
Finally, what is the future of bodybuilding in Nigeria through the efforts of your Mr. Flex Nigeria? What do you hope to achieve with this, let’s say probably in five or ten years time?
In five years time, I am expecting Nigeria to win the World body-building championship. We already have world class body-builders, but I want Nigeria to reign consecutively for five years in World bodybuilding championship.
That’s a big task…
It’s a big task, but it’s achievable.
So, how do you plan to do this?
By organizing more competitions, by getting more support from government, multi-nationals and individuals. And another thing I want to beg of our body-builders to look for managers themselves. By the time they have friends who believe in what they are doing, eight or nine months before a championship, such friends might even help out financially, by giving them money to buy suplements they need in staying very healthy. That is another reason we want to start organizing this workshop or seminar and we will tag it National Power Sport and Fitness Seminar for Athletes.
Steven, I want to thank you so much for finding time to talk to us.
Thank you very much.
But before you go, I would like you to use this medium to appeal to potential sponsors out there, how they can reach you, how they can support Mr. Flex Nigeria in order to achieve everything that you want to achieve.
I’m appealing to Nigerians, not only government officials or organizations, I’m appealing to multi-nationals, individuals too to have the passion to encourage and sponsor bodybuilding.
You can reach us on our website: www.mrflexnigeria.com or me personally on 08033310361. You can reach me for information on how you can support and sponsor our programmes and how to develop body-building in Nigeria.
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