Nigeria’s queen of the tracks, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor, is in Abuja for the National Sports Festival, though not to compete as an athlete, as many of her numerous fans would have loved.
PREMIUM TIMES caught up with the poster girl of Nigeria athletics at the main bowl of the National Stadium in Abuja and Okagbare explained why she is not competing against the other athletes at NSF 2018.
The multi medallist also added her voice to the discourse on whether the Sports Festival should be made ‘open,’ to accommodate just anybody, foreign or local based, or it should be closed, that is strictly for athletes with virtually no international exposure.
PT: Can you tell your fans why you are not competing at the ongoing National Sports Festival here in Abuja.
Okagbare: I feel the Festival was set up in a time when my season has winded down, for me, I am already off and looking for the next season. So, for me, it did not fit anywhere in my schedule. But if I had the opportunity, why not, I would have given it a shot for Delta State.
PT: Do you support the National Festival being made open to accommodate foreign-based pros and full-blown internationals?
Okagbare: Not really. When I participated at the sports festival, it was open that particular year and I was not particularly happy about it.
First, you must raise your standard to actually compete with the older people, who I will say are a little bit better or actually better than you, the people that have been there before you came.
Then, I was so young and competing with people who just came back from the Commonwealth Games was a little scary for me but that being said, I was able to do my own part.
Sincerely, I really do not support it (Open Festival) that much because I feel like if we have a lot of these people coming up. I mean we have the Youth Games, where we actually groom athletes, but it is better to have the athletes at the same level compete against themselves.
My season ended in September, so putting the festival at this period of the year will not really make any sense to me. So, I just feel it will be better to have the home-based athletes who have the same calendar compete against themselves.
Not bragging, but I do not see anyone that can stop me here if I compete. It would be more like fun and entertaining the crowd but this is supposed to be a serious and competitive event, so it would be better to have the athletes in same cadre battle it out against themselves. We will have more competitiveness that way and not just fun.
PT: There is the element of surprise in sports. We saw six-time Olympian, Funke Oshonaike, lose at the table tennis. Don’t you think more would be seen if the festival is open and the top professionals compete with the local athletes?
Okagbare: Yeah… Surprises happen in sports, especially if you do not brace yourself properly. Anybody can jump in front of you. That is what I would say. For example, if I come here and I am not well prepared, then I should be ready that anything can happen.
These people at home have been training hard for this festival so you out there, overseas, might not be prepared for this like they are. Maybe you are even just called up in the last minute to come over and compete.
In that case, you accept whatever comes your way because sports is full of surprises. Even those who prepare 24/7 are not guaranteed the gold medal. You can get off the blocks and you fall and the home stars beat you to the top prize. So, in sports, just anything can happen, though, in eight out of ten times, better preparation guarantees better performance.
For Funke, maybe she just wanted to have fun, compete with her people, and inspire them and all that. So, there is no big deal that she was beaten by an ‘unknown’ player. It is always nice to be with your people, which is why I am here also. To be with my people and also support them.
PT: How proud are to be from Delta State, the team dominating the medals table?
Okagbare: Of course, I am proudly Delta. You know Delta State has offered a huge support in my career.
They have been there for me since I was a little girl and till now, they are still my backbone kind of, and I have so much to be grateful for, as regards Delta State.
Now, they are still doing it for other athletes, like at this festival, you can see a lot of athletes representing Delta State and that is great. The governor has been doing well, as regards his support for sports. I can say there is still much to come for Delta State sports wise.
PT: What is your advice to athletes as they get cash rewards from the festival?
Okagbare: Unfortunately, when this money comes, it sometimes gets into our head.
I would say well done to all who have worked hard to get these medals.
My advice to them is that they should see how they can put the money to proper use.
First, you would need to invest in yourself so that you can be a better athlete, if indeed, you really want to go far in any sports, including swimming.
Over the world, sports is a big business and for you to go higher and be winning more medals, it takes a lot of money and dedication. I will say to the athletes that, with these monies they would be getting, they should set some aside to invest in themselves before you now wait for anybody to make investments in you.