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Odegbami: Sport – The Universal Level Playing-Field For The Black Race!

Odegbami: Sport – The Universal Level Playing-Field For The Black Race!

Think about it: in what other sphere of human activity is there a level playing field for competition, considering the way the world is designed and constructed to function by the Super Powers throughout history, other than sports? Think about it.

That’s why in 2021, 205 athletes from countries can assemble in one place, eat, sleep and drink together, and then compete, without a whisper of any of the intractable crisis that are ravaging the world rearing their ugly heads.

For the entire two-weeks duration of the Tokyo Olympics where all of humanity were gathered in peace and friendship, all conflicts on earth receded to the background, all differences wet into hibernation, and the rest of world tuned in to watch Whites, Reds, colored and Blacks kiss, hug and embrace despite fierce competitions  against each other on the leveling fields.

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Thats why the late sage, Dr. Nelson Mandela, famously said:

“Sport has the power to change the world”.

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It was not a flimsy speech by one of the most respected men in human history. It was a simple message but loaded with deep meaning. That’s why the world is still missing its essence and practical application.

During his lifetime, Nelson Mandela gave several speeches carved on marble stones, but some are less quoted than the others, including this one:

“The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The Black people of the world need Nigeria to be great, as a source of pride and confidence”.

The big question is: Why would he single out Nigeria? ‘Pride and confidence’ from one of the most vilified Black nations on earth?

Also Read – Odegbami: Kenya And Jamaica – Models For Development Of The Sports Industry In Africa!

Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba is also a world renowned Kenyan scholar, a lawyer and political activist. His speeches have become a rich source of inspiration for all Africans. Like Nelson Mandela, one of his less known speeches, not often quoted for obvious reasons, makes ‘Nigeria’ a point of reference.

Hear him:

“Nigeria has shortchanged Africa. Nigeria is Africa. If you want any of the best men and women anywhere in the world, and you go to the UK, who are the doctors there? It is Nigerians and Ghanaians and a history of other Africans. You go to the USA, the great man who performed an operation in Utera was a Nigerian. In any areas you go to, you find Nigerians. 

“The day Nigerians resolve that ‘we are going to make Africa great’,  that is the day Africa is going to rise again. I am appealing to you Nigerians, wherever you are, wake up, because the day you wake up, Africa will never remain the same again”. 

“You are punching below your weight; you cannot afford to be grouped among the lightweights while you are Super heavyweights”.

Again, why does Nigeria stand between the emancipation or not of the Black race?

I have been thinking all these things for a while.  Then, early this week I had a conversation with my friend based in Guinea. He is global sports icon, a true legend of Track and Field athletics, a two-time Olympian with Gold and Bronze medals, one of 4 African-American athletes that wore black berets and raised their clenched fists in the traditional Black Power Salute when they mounted the podium to receive their Gold medals for winning the 4 x 400 metres relay and for breaking the world record in the process at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.

After that he became a USA Track and Field ambassador and a Hall of famer, coach and consultant in America and in several European countries before settling down in the past two decades, in the small West African country of Guinea, one of the poorest countries on the planet, to find interpretation and purpose for his life by returning to his original roots, and impacting the lives of his brethren in Africa.

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Team Nigeria at Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Let me apologize to him for taking literary license by recalling and now publishing bits and pieces of our private conversation as we discussed the future of sport in Africa, and how sport can be strategically deployed to change lives, through recreation and education for the girl-child (an area of particular interest to him) in the continent.

His words remained like a song in my ears, playing over and over again in my head for a long time after our conversation, and would not go away until I put them down in writing, as much as I could recall and as close as possible to what he actually said. Only after that did my troubled spirit rest.

He has not read what I wrote but, shortly putting this to bed, I finally secured his permission to quote him. Thats what I am now doing, putting his words in parenthesis only because they are not verbatim quotes. As I write these down, I am still stunned, even now, by the depth of his conviction and the pain sipping out of his words like a sore thumb.

Ron Freeman had only ever visited Nigeria once when he came with the Chicago Olympics Bid committee.

Google his name and read a whole book about this incredible but quiet man, who continues to do great things for the youths in Guinea without any expectation of credit or publicity for his works.

But why join Nelson Mandela and Patrick Lumumba in using Nigeria as a reference point for the struggle for emancipation of all Black persons on earth?.

Read his long ‘epistle’ to all Black persons on earth:

My pain that I find here in Africa is that Africans do not know their history. It is a shame. Black people are the only race in the World that do not relate to their history and their roots. Everywhere people know their history and relate to it. Not Africans. 

Take Blacks in America. Ask them where they come from. They will tell you they are Americans. They do not connect with their origin. They are the only race in America that does that. 

Take a Jewish child. He knows and connects completely with his origins in Israel. Take a Chinese, take . an Indian, or any White person. It is the same thing. Take anybody but the Blacks In America, they know and will relate with their basic origin. Black Americans do not all accept they are Africans. 90% of them would never accept that fact.

The tragedy is that in Africa, Africans also do not relate with Black Americans. Take me, I have been in Africa for this long, the people still do not accept me as having come from here, and that I am really one of them. 

Take Lee (Evans). He gave his life to serve in Nigeria. They never fully accepted him. See how he was treated. Nigeria had the greatest athletics coach in the world amongst them for so long and they never accepted him. If Lee was in the Nigerian athletics team to Tokyo, it would have been a different story. See what he did every time he worked in the team and around Nigeria. He would have made sure things worked, and the athletes would have been some of the best in the world. He did it in 1976. And in 1984, and even after. Check with all the athletes that ever worked with Lee.  He was there in Nigeria (at different times) for decades. Nigerians never saw him as one of them, so for long spells he wasted. Here was a man who loved Nigeria passionately, even more than the Nigerians themselves.

Yet, DNA tests confirm that we have the same blood. We are brothers and sisters for God’s sake, blood relations. Slavery has affected the minds of Blacks in the US. They do not even love each other. Blacks do not love Blacks. 

Meanwhile, colonialism messed up the minds of Africans. I am in Africa. Despite everything I have done, they do not accept me as one of them. They still see me as a foreigner. America is not my root. 

Now, think of it. The greatest people in the world are Blacks. They are Nigerians. Check and see the most intelligent people in the world, the list of best physicians, the best chess player, the best engineers, highest number of Phd holders in America, they are Nigerians. Nigeria is the most intelligent country in the world. And the greatest Blacks. It is Nigeria. 

Just find a way to stop the corruption, stop the damage being done by the politicians, by Boko Haram, and several other groups fighting all over that country, and you have the greatest country on the world. Nigeria is the leader in everything – leading Mathematician, leading this, leading that. Everywhere, in every profession in the world, you find them.

The bad things about them that the world hears always are only about 10% of who they really are. The good things that constitute 90% are not told and are wasting assets. Nobody is connecting Nigeria with those great things being done by Nigerians all over the world.  All these Boko Haram, and agitating groups are distracting the country from assuming its rightful place as leader of the Black race in the world. 

Take athletics. It is in the blood of every Nigerian. Imagine, if money is provided, the athletes eat well and are comfortable, they have facilities to train here at home, bring the best Black African-Americans here to train them, keep them here. You will have the greatest country in the world in sports. 

You have the template of sports development in Nigeria already. In 1976 the world saw it at the Montreal Olympics in Canada. Nigeria had some of the best boxers, athletes, footballers, and so on, going to the Olympics. They had the template. They had Lee Evans, Ron Davis, Archie Moore, and so on. Thats the template. To keep the athletes at home, make them very happy, bring your American brothers and sisters here to train them. Success will change the perception of Nigeria in the world. Sport is in their blood. 

Africa cannot get better until we get rid of the bad influences like corruption, poverty, bad politics, and things like that.

Can you imagine it? If Black African Americans should wake up one day and accept Africa as their home? Can you imagine if Black African Americans are accepted here in Africa as their brothers and sisters, and given land to resettle and contribute to the social and economic development of the communities?  

A Jew from anywhere in the world that goes back to Israel is accepted and given a place they can call their home. I am waiting for that day to come in Africa. I am looking for a home. I shall find it in Africa. When I do, I shall then find my way there.

These are words from the deepest part of conviction, from a human soul, expressed painfully and candidly, capturing what every Black person on earth, with their ancestry traced to the African continent, should make their holy grail.

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Ron Freeman (right) Lee Evans (left) and Larry James with their 400m medals won for USA at the Mexico 1968 Olympics . Photo credit: Getty Images

Ron, by the way, has tested his DNA and the tests confirm that the blood running through his veins is 83% African, and 41% of that is Nigerian!

On deeper reflection of what Ron told me, even if little of it is completely new, I became convinced that I have been on the right path in my humble previous assessment of the situation of the Black race on earth.

Also Read: Nnamdi Wins First Javeline Medal For Nigeria At World Athletics U-20 Championships

The references to Nigeria are strategic and very important. What Nigeria represents in the community of Blacks on earth speaks volumes. Nigeria is the most vilified Black country on earth. That too is understandable. It is one of the richest, the largest and the most populated Black nation on earth, all 250 million of them, strong, loud, educated and not completely ‘corrupted’ by colonialism before Independence came. Southern Nigeria also was a large source of slaves forcefully exported to the Caribbean Islands, Brazil, Cuba, the United States, Europe, and so on.

So, Professor Patrick Lumumba was on point when he also said:

“ You cannot remain a slave forever. We have conquered the mountain of political freedom; we must now conquer the mountain of economic freedom”. 

How do you do that?

The Black person must earn respect and be filled with confidence to begin the journey of emancipation and equality in this world. He must compete and earn that respect. The only field where he can do so for now and succeed is on the level playing ground of global sport. When he can win against the rest of the world he will become armed with respect.

To gain confidence he needs a united front. To achieve this he needs a platform to assemble, to discuss, to plan and strategise. The common thread running through all his race is culture, a deep rooted culture that continues to sustain despite Centuries of oppression, suppression, slavery, colonialism, racism, and so on.

The Blacks of this world  had the perfect platform and opportunity to jump start an authentic process of re-setting the buttons of a global Black cultural renaissance in Nigeria. Using her resources, Nigeria organized the largest assembly of Black and African people on earth at the Second Black and African Festival of the Arts and Culture in 1977. It was the perfect platform, with an intellectual colloquium to boot, to congregate on a regular basis to plan and move with one voice in the gradual unshackling from all forms of enslavement including economic. The Black race must re-open that chapter again, but do it differently.

We spent an hour and a half talking.

Ron blew my mind with some fundamental truths.

Ron Freedom is preparing to leave Guinea soon, having laid a good and, hopefully, a sustainable foundation. He intends to pay a penultimate visit to the country that adopted his ancestors again before returning to settle finally in one of the East African countries (his preference of where to spend the rest of his life in Africa).

Like his friends, late Lee Evans, Ron Davis, Oliver Johnson, and a whole army of other African Americans waiting for the opportunity and circumstances that would bring them home to Africa, Ron Freeman will finally return to Africa in fulfillment of his greatest wish.

The interesting development is that I am a part of some work that has started in a few African countries involving great legends of African sport driving a new mission. Our blood brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, desirous to have a relationship with their roots, will find new welcoming settlements and people that will welcome them everywhere they choose to live on the African continent, where they will be appreciated, loved, and can live and invest in peace, and can contribute maximally to development of the communities, and where, in the evening of their lives, they can rest in perfect peace with their ancestors.

There is such a place already waiting for them in Nigeria. It is in Wasimi.

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