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Nduka Odizor: When I wept for tennis, I decided to activate change in Nigeria

*We shall return Dala, Ogbe tennis championships in one year

*My approach will be practical, community-based and scientific

*We can breed highest number of millionaires in tennis

Nduka Odizor...as a young player
Nduka Odizor…as a young player

Ahead of the sports federation election monitor, we zeroed on tennis. One name on the burners is Nigeria’s best ever athlete, Nduka Odizor. He spoke to Olajide Fashikun. Please enjoy the excerpts. He did a yeoman’s job answering the questions posed to him.

Whenever I tell my friends and folks that Nigeria is one of the most blessed nations in tennis, it runs like an understatement. We have a rich presence of highly qualified tennis coaches with a good reputation and background, we have the very best of tennis locations, great weather and very good opportunities for player development. All we need in my own opinion as Nduka Odizor is, a little directed and focused leadership. That is that small space I have decided to fill by coming out to run as the President of the Nigeria Tennis Federation.

All successful people follow the same principles and attitudes and that is what we emphasise here, the mind and attitude of a business model. The techniques and fitness of our youth programme is vital for success as well but tennis leadership is mostly mental, practical, business-oriented and directional. That is what the new leadership, if I am elected, will provide.

If you have these principles and attitudes, do you believe me that within Nigeria, despite the recession, we shall make companies break the bank vaults for us? Sports business is a mathematical function of a well structured product and brand. With our names, our business module, nobody will not want to buy and invest in Nigerian tennis. It is about packaging. Delivery and brand management. We have a set of young tennis players who are doing great in the junior circuits. They have rave media reportage weekly. So, we are down but not completely down. The sky is just a space we must conquer.

Nduka Odizor with Sports Minister Solomon Dalung...at a tennis event long before now
Nduka Odizor with Sports Minister Solomon Dalung…at a tennis event long before now

Why I wept for my nation: One afternoon, my friend, brother and respected colleague, Godwin Kienka, invited me to speak to a ministerial reform committee on “player motivation”. I agreed, I prepared, went there and did not know when I broke down in tears and wept like a baby for our tennis.

Asked what made him to cry, the tall well schooled and suave speaking successful businessman said, “I looked back to my growing years and looked at the situation now and discovered to my uttermost pain and anguish that nothing has changed. Nothing changed. It is still the same cycle. I imagined, if any of the current tennis players were to be my child, is this what they will be facing? I don’t know when I cracked down and wept.”

That day, I told myself, ‘Nduka, you must lead a change. That day, I started the movement. Not knowing the opportunity to lead the Nigeria Tennis Federation can come so quickly. When this window opened, I consulted with a lot of my old connections in the sport in Nigeria, America, Europe and all I got was, give it your best.”

If and when elected: Truly speaking, this is not about Nduka Odizor. It is about that great nation that produced me, Tony Mmoh, Sadiq Abdullahi, David Imonitie, Thompson Onibokun, the Olateru-Olagbegis etc We are born leaders. Can we take that leadership a little notch up? Yes, we can. Yes, we should.

With 10% of Nigeria’s population keying into the structures we have worked out with our partners both within Nigeria and abroad, we are going to be the best in the world in a short while. I did not know the federation space will open too fast, I had worked out modalities and programmes and all these we shall, as a team and board, deliver for our nation.

Funding of activities: No government anywhere in the world has or can spend the kind of monies in sports. I have been working with the Nigeria Sports Development Fund Inc (NSDFI) in Abuja on alternative funding of sports in Nigeria. I know details have been worked out to use lottery to fund sports in the country. That should commence about the time we would be sworn-in after the federation election.

Whatever comes from that activity alone, if and well channelled, will give us a good beginning. We have some other sources lined up. We shall not go cap in hands to government to bring the unavailable resources for tennis.

Youth and children programmes: We have in plan one of the most customised developmental youth tennis training programmes in the industry. It is our plan to raise the funds, set up about five or six tennis academies in the country. It is capital intensive but worth the while.

Using a “farm” system, junior tennis players must compete weekly to earn their spot in the programme. With weekly matches and competitive play along with experienced coaching observation, players move up and down the ranks within the youth tennis academy structure on a weekly basis.

You need to see where I am looking at. In two years, I want to see no less than 5,000 kids in all the age categories banging tennis rackets in different communities. I want to see communities mobilized to own, manage, organize, host, play as teams and make tennis a big business. We have exchange programmes lined up too.

We want to advocate and deliver tennis training seriously by using a variety of experienced professionals, hitting partners and trainers so that our junior athletes can draw from a wide range of coaching perspectives to help them reach their potential.

You can imagine the number of fresh employments we can generate. Imagine the new volume tennis umpires, recorders, statisticians, historians, leacturers, teachers, reserachers, organising secretaries etc we are going to be raising.

Our high performance tennis academy. I am looking at one for Lagos or Ilorin. I had travelled to Kwara on a private visit to see the tennis facilities. I saw the hostel facilities. Medical and other settings. That is my ideal tennis high performance centre.

We want to set up a track record of helping young players reach their maximum potential. Within the next four years I want to see children who will break all I could achieve as a tennis player. Not until then, I will not rest on my oars. I want to see many Nigerian players on top the rankings in the ATP, WTA, ITF and USTA tours.

My focus is accomplishing these missions to develop champions in the sport of tennis. I pray we have a great board that can appreciate these focus and we drive out as soon as we are elected.

Many see you as a foreigner: Leave that matter. I have a root in Nigeria. I had never stopped coming to Nigeria. I bring so much estate development businesses to Nigeria. I have attracted so much foreign direct investment (FDI) to Nigeria. I am still a Nigerian in all sense and ramifications.

Many people have not just been seeing me so active in tennis. But if the same people had observed closely they would have seen my increased presence in the last two years and more. I had been doing this privately not because I wanted to contest office but because I wanted to give back to God the glory and to the society that made me what I am today.

Election into the federation is just coming as an opportunity to make me give more concentrated attention and action to tennis. This is a challenge. With me and the Board that will be elected, we can make our nation the very best in the world!

Ogbe hard court and Dala Clay: We know what to do if we are determined to do what is right and good. There is no nation greater than Nigeria in the world if doing the impossible is the issue. We shall do the impossible.

If as a journalist I tell you that we shall ensure that Ogbe hard court like the Lord Rummens and Dala Clay in Kano will come back within one year of our election, you are wont to say, this is impossible. Challenges are human to be tackled. Mark my words. We have worked out the plans. I told you earlier modern sports is community-based. If we deliver these three and added to the Governor’s Cup in Lagos we are coming back.

One thing that is sure and certain is tennis is a big business. We are the best country in Africa to lead. If we lead well, the world will soon become a theatre to conquer.

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