I have been following the GLO/CAF awards since inception and have attended all but two in the period.
I must admit that a great deal goes into the project every year. Organizing it is a logistical nightmare. The cost of putting it together is mind boggling! Even as the event has taken on a life of its own and has become a fixture in the annual calendar of CAF and each edition has a unique character and script that defines it and makes it different, it is obvious that the event has continued to improve and get more prestigious every year.
The 2015 event that held two nights ago stands out for two major reasons.
The first is its content, an almost seamless programming that started and ended on schedule. The event ran like a clock, without a dull moment!
The second that almost blighted the event is the introduction of an award for Leadership in Africa. Why do the organisers think that adding politics to the event provides any value to it? As it turned out this year, they must be scratching their heads wondering how they got it all wrong!
The overall packaging and presentation were superb, with a wide variety of entertainment acts and performances by exceptional artists drawn from across Africa adding sweet spices to, and linking, the award presentation segments.
The musical dances were fantastic and well choreographed with the Nigerian artists providing acts that confirm the country’s place as the entertainment capital of Africa.
There were, of course, a few low points.
Attendance was low compared to previous years. The absence (once again) of the Chairman of Globacom,Otunba Mike Adenuga was also loud! And for a football event that celebrates the best of African football, the absence of most of the nominees and winners, could have been compensated with the presence and celebration of previous legends as guests whose attendance would have been easier to achieve. Getting most current players to attend has always proved to be the greatest challenge, hence the suspicion that winners (particularly that of the African Footballer of the Year) are told before hand to secure their attendance.
The introduction of an award that appeared to be for the purpose of scoring a political point, and handling it rather poorly was the major blight of the show.
Giving the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria an award may be politically expedient. But to share the award with the President of the Ghana Football Federation and making their representatives share the stage at the same time was disingenuous!
Very few in the audience knew who the two persons that came to represent the awardees were. Who represented who? Two unknown faces just walked to the stage to receive the awards.
Sensing the anomaly and confusion, one of the two comperes of the event, Robert Marawa, in order to save the day, masterfully changed the script and requested that the recipients responded on behalf of the awardees they represented. Note that up to that point, no awardee had said anything upon receiving their awards.
To the consternation of all they went into sleep mode, immobile and mute, looking completely lost until the same Robert intervened again by embarrassingly going on to the next item on the programme.
Having said that, the rest of the show flowed from start to finish like a well-oiled machine. By the time it ended, the audience wanted more! That’s how good an event it was I congratulate Yaya Toure and all the other winners of the different categories of awards. It was Yaya who stole the night. He truly deserved his fourth consecutive African Player of the Year Award. The feeling is that if he continues to play and dominate the field in the manner he has been doing in Manchester City FC and for Cote D’Ivoire in the past few years, no one should be surprised when, next year again, he comes to pick up the award for the fifth time.
George Omokaro – standing up for all retired sports heroes!
Five days into the New Year, I received a phone call from Sam Okpodu in Asaba. He told me he had just received a call from another colleague of ours, a former international football colleague who lives in Benin. He narrated to me how on the phone, George was inaudible as a result of uncontrollable sobbing.
He was very worried for George and wanted me to intervene immediately by calling him. He recalled that only a few weeks earlier I had reported in my column how another colleague had called me up and was sobbing over the poor state of his health and his inability to help himself. Moses Otolorin, the colleague, died a few short weeks later. That’s why I quickly called up George Omokaro!
Those who are old enough to remember the football and footballers of the late 1970s and 1980s must be familiar with George. He was a central midfield player in the great Bendel Insurance FC that became national FA Cup champions in the late 1970s and supplied 7 players (including George) to the then national team.
Since retiring from football, George had done well for himself through some business, appointments at local government political level in Edo state, and a stint as Edo State Chairman of the Football Association.
The past few years have, however, been challenging. He developed serious arthritis in both knees following the stress and strain he put them through during his playing days representing club and country. The price for that service, as with several of us as we get older, are serious health issues.
Last year, after being almost completely bed-ridden for two years, with the support of friends and some family members, George travelled to India for surgery to his knees. Due to paucity of funds, he could only do surgery on one knee. He returned to Nigeria, unable to fund his return to India for the second operation and has been bed-ridden and in severe pains since then. His back is now affected. He is unable to walk or work, and has exhausted all his life’s savings fighting a health challenge that will remain with him for the rest of his life unless he has a second surgery!
He is a frustrated man. That’s why he is crying out – for some support and attention. For a once active sports hero to become bedridden, jobless and helpless is the worst kind of mental and physical torture.
Yet George is not alone in this situation. Peter Fregene has been in a similar situation for over ten years. Moses Otolorin just recently lost his own battle. There are several others scattered all over the country languishing in poor health, neglect, pain and despair. Supporting retired sports heroes and ambassadors should be of concern to the leadership of the country.
That’s why change must come into the matter of Nigerian sports. Things must be done differently in order to achieve different and better results. The matter of ex-international sportsmen and women in Nigeria, should no longer take a backstage in our sports policies and actions. Sports heroes must not become victims of the consequences of their service to the country, or even their States.
That’s why in 2015 we must all join the clarion call for genuine change. As Nigeria stands on the precipice of her political life, sports cannot be immune from its impact and effect.
Sports must become part of the conversations during the national election campaigns. The country’s past and present heroes need serious attention.
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