‘Godfatherism Killing Nigerian Sports’
Canada-based former national volleyball player, Mrs. Faustina Phillips-Oare, says Nigerian sportsmen and woman can only attain their desired result at global level if those administering the nation’s sports were ready to do away with what she called ‘godfatherism.’ In a chat with The Guardian shortly after the Super Falcons were bundled out in the group stage at the on-going FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, Phillips-Oare talked about the issues dogging sports development in Nigeria and the way forward for the sector.
FAUSTINA Phillips-Oare was one of the female volleyball players brought up by former national team handler, Coach Tony Oguma. A product of Edia College, Benin City, Phillips-Oare, alongside Angela Okonji, Mercy Odafe (now Mrs. Ochei) and Blessing Ogbaka, led the then Bendel State Volleyball team to a glorious outing at Oluyole ’79 National Sports Festival held in Ibadan. She later made it to the national team, as she was included in the Nigerian team, which represented Africa at the 1982 World Volleyball Championship in Peru, after a training tour in China.
With such sports background, Mrs. Faustina Phillips-Oare will always devote time to follow any Nigerian team, whenever they participate in global competitions. She was one of those Nigerian residents in Canada who gave the Super Falcons moral support in their two group games against Sweden and Australia in Winnipeg, her place of aboard here in Canada.
But Phillips-Oare, who hails from Etsako-West local government area of Edo State, was not satisfied with the performance of the Falcons in the championship. “I don’t think we came with our best players to Canada. I was once an athlete, and from the look of things, that godfatherism, which has eaten so deep into our sports system back home, may have taken a toll on this team. I still don’t believe that this is the best we could gather from Nigeria for such a big sporting occasion as the FIFA World Cup.
“The goalkeeper (Precious Dede) looks old. Her reflexes were a big problem and that was one of the reasons we conceded three goals against Sweden. It was just the spirited efforts of some of the players that gave us that draw. I also believe that even some of the players did not merit a shirt in our senior national team. They played as if they were learning how to kick football.
“Here in Canada, there is nothing like godfatherism in team’s selection. The son of a governor, who is not good enough, would be dropped for the son of a poor man. But you dare not try such back home and that is killing our sports,” she said.
In her days with Edia College in Benin City, the ever-smiling Faustina was a force to reckon with in the volleyball court.
At the end of the 1982 World Volleyball Championship in the South American country, Peru, she decided to strengthen her academic career with the School of Nursing, University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) as her port of call. She later worked at UNTH for 20 years before moving to Canada in 2006 after passing a Canadian nursing examination.
To demonstrate her continuous love for sports, Mrs. Faustina Phillips-Oare, gives her daughter, Serena Ayo-Oluwakitan Phillips, the encouragement she needs in volleyball here in Canada. “She started as a track and field athlete before she settled for volleyball and basketball in school.”
However, Serena’s dream of making it big in volleyball seems to have suffered a setback, following a serious injury she had, while playing with her schoolmates earlier this year, which required surgical operation.
Before the injury, Serena was already playing for Vision Elite Club, one of the most popular volleyball clubs in Winnipeg. But one other young Nigerian also showing determination in school volleyball in Winnipeg is Grace Ehiwele. She will be 18 next year.
“I don’t think I ever had any regret combining sports with my educational career at Edia College back in the mid 1970s to early 80s,” she told The Guardian. “During my days at Edia College, our school principal, a white lady, encouraged children to go into sporting activities. At first, my parents thought that going into sports would disturb my education. It was our principal, who wrote a letter to them (my parents) to allow me combine the two, assuring them that I had the ability and interest to become an athlete. My sporting career actually started at St. Stephen’s Primary School (now Ogbie Primary School, Benin City). Then, I was an all-rounder, doing long jump, shot put, sprint and relays.
“It was Coach Tony Oguma, who introduced me to the game of volleyball at Edia College because as at that time, he was using the college ground to train Bendel State Volleyball players. I was still in school when I made Bendel State volleyball team to Afuze Games Village in the build up to Oluyole ’79.”
“As I said, here in Canada, the children are allowed to make a choice for themselves. The major sporting events here are volleyball, hockey and basketball. When I came in 2006, I didn’t know much about the people and their system. But thanks to people like Philomena Esukioya, sister Salome Aghidi and our mother, Mrs. Victoria Ehiwele, who took me like a child.