30th March, 2012
With less than four months to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London, Nigerian taekwondoist, Chika Chukwumerije, to many Nigerians, is the brightest medal prospect of all the athletes that will represent the country at the Games. However, to the President of Nigeria Taekwondo Referees Association, NTRA, Ferguson Oluigbo, Chukwumerije, who won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, is not the best taekwondoist that could represent Nigeria. In this interview with Bamidele Olowosagba, Oluigbo, who is one of the founding members of the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation, NTF, in 1986 and also, a member of the World Taekwondo Referees Federation, spoke about what Nigeria must do to win medals in Taekwondo at London Games and other issues.
How would you describe the two tickets Nigeria got for the Taekwondo event in the forthcoming London Olympics?
Personally, I think we could get more tickets to take part at the Olympics apart from the ones we got through Chika Chukwumerije and Issa Adam. I expected us to get at least four slots from the qualifiers. The two we got were still a fair achievement.
Do you think the level of preparation of our athletes for the London Games is higher than how they prepared for the Beijing Games?
It depends on how you want to look at it. But considering the fact that we took part in the last All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique and the Korea training camp, I think our athletes should still be in top shape for the Games. But I have reservation about the number of athletes in camp. We have only four in camp. Taekwondo is a sport where athletes need a lot of motivation in training and they get this motivation when they are many in camp. The sound they also make while sweating it out in training, is enough inspiration to them. Like we call it ‘fire for fire’.
With what you have seen of both Chukwumerije and Adam, do you see Nigeria getting more than the bronze medal won in Beijing?
Both athletes are worthy representation not only for Nigeria but also for African continent. They are strong, eager and hungry for success, which are important qualities a taekwondoist must possess to excel. The athletes and their coaches will need to work on the technical aspect of the game for the athletes to be equal to the challenges.
Pundits of the sport are of the opinion that one thing that can prevent Chukwumerije from winning a medal in London is the injury he suffers at every major championship. What is your take on this?
I don’t agree with that. A taekwondoist can become a world champion or an Olympic champion without sustaining a scratch throughout the tourney if he or she is good technically. That explains the need for them to be more of a technical fighter than a strong one.
Now that Chukwumerije has declared this London Games as his last Olympics, do you think there is any prospect for the country in future championships?
We have many strong taekwondoists all over the country that are equally strong, if not stronger than Chukwumerije. Athletes like Musibau Ogunjimi, who won gold medal at the last NUGA Games and champion of the last Korean Ambassador championship in Abuja and Ahmed Lawal from Kano State, who has been doing well on the local scene lately.
Uche Chukwumerije, the senior brother of Chika, is equally a very good taekwondoist. He actually won gold medal at the same All Africa Games, where Chika struggled to win a silver medal for the country.
Chika is not our best athlete but he has been celebrated to an extent that everyone feels he is the best we can offer. I just hope he will manage the limelight he is enjoying right now and concentrate more on his training, because all eyes are on him and Nigerians are expecting him to deliver more than the bronze he won at Beijing Games.
How would you describe the growth of Taekwondo in Nigeria?
A lot has to be done to take the sport to where it belongs in the country. Taekwondo is declining in the country, in terms of popularity and followership. We hardly get sponsors to stage tournaments for our athletes. Most of us, who are in this sport are not happy with the situation at all.
What is the way forward?
Well, we just have to go back to the basics. We need to start building the interest of Nigerians in the sport in our schools (primary, secondary and higher institutions) and the Forces (Police, Military and Paramilitary).
This will boost the public patronage of the sport and more athletes would be available for the country for championships.