Forty-seven years after Nigeria led other 27 African countries to boycott the 1976 Olympic Montreal Games in Canada, the Team Nigeria athletes who were denied lifetime opportunities to become Olympians and medalists will be honoured on July 28, 2023.
Also, the 1980 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) winning squad will be honoured with listing in the newly created Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Sports Diplomacy Wall of Fame in addition to cash rewards from the Chairman, Air Peace, Barrister Allen Onyema.
At a media parley held in Lagos on Sunday, July 9, 2023, to unveil plans to honour these former footballers and athletes who sacrificed their lives for the country, Onyema stressed that he is motivated to carry out the Wall of Fame project as a way to honour the athletes for their huge sacrifices.
“We promised to build a Wall of fame where their names will be written in gold. I also enjoin other corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals to join in honouring these sports heroes however they can. We are talking about Nigerian athletes who used their prime to serve this country. They arrived Montreal, Canada and just on the eve of the opening ceremony, were asked to pack their bags and leave camp because Nigeria and the rest of Africa had resolved to boycott the Games as a result of the support some countries were giving apartheid in South Africa. The AFCON Team of 1980 will also be recognised for their feat.
“I love this country. Our diversity should be our strength, not an albatross. The source of some of our problems is holding on tight to the issues of ethnicity and tribalism. Sports is a veritable tool for unifying the nation. Hence, my investment in it. That’s why I support sports development. Tribalism is not helping us. Ethnic nationalism is what we have but what I seek to promote through my initiatives is broad nationalism.
“The 1976 athletes had prepared for four years. Some were on top of their events like Charlton Ehizuelen, Imadiyi, Bruce Ijirigho and our 4x400m men’s relay team that were sure gold or silver medal hopefuls. In fact, Ehizuelen had the world leading jump to the Olympics. They jettisoned their dreams because of Nigeria. Most didn’t recover and never had the opportunities to become Olympic medalists again in their lifetime. These former athletes and the 1980 AFCON winning squad are those to be honoured as Air Peace Sports Diplomacy Ambassadors come July 28, 2023,” Onyema stated.
The Air Peace Chairman, apart from listing the athletes in the Wall of Fame, pledged to give some cash rewards as well as flight tickets to each of those still alive- 12 return tickets to local destinations and one return ticket annually to any of the airline’s international destinations.
Former Green Eagles Captain, Chief Segun Odegbami, who was also in the 1976 football team to the Montreal Games, commended Onyema for his massive contributions to Nigeria’s sports development, especially his sponsorship of the Nigerian National Teams in a deal with the NFF.
Odegbami, also known as the Mathematician, revealed that out of the 45 Nigerian athletes that were in Montreal for the Games, twenty of them have died, almost half of those alive are having health challenges. He added: “For the 1980 AFCON squad, six have died while five others are nursing one ailment or the other. I am only fortunate by God’s grace to be amongst those with good health.”