Nigerian baseball players set sight on Tokyo Olympics

The young shall grow…The Nigeria Baseball and Softball Association says it has taken the game to schools so as to make it more popular in the country.

The game of baseball and softball have been on the sidelines in Nigeria in spite of the huge passion and energy put in by players and administrators of the game. The efforts of the players, their coaches and promoters are virtually relegated to the background compared to other sports.

But it appears their toiling over the years could get the big reward this season, as their march towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics continues in a big ways.

The Nigeria baseball and softball teams have scaled the first zonal hurdle, and are now preparing for the challenge in South Africa in May. Though, they still have the European group playoffs to face afterwards, the players have their sight set at the Olympics.

They say nothing can stop their dream from coming to reality.

The Chairman, Tokyo 2020 National Olympic qualifiers, Engr. Chris Dic-Willie is a manager with baseball etched deeply in his hearts. And it is this deep-rooted passion that is driving him on the road to Tokyo.

Dic-Willie and the players were in Ghana last month, where they played the regional qualifier that has set them on for a trip to South Africa. The championship will hold in Johannesburg between May 1 and 5.

The ladies will take on hosts South Africa, Botswana and Kenya for a ticket to Holland, where they will play Euro-Africa elimination for the softball spots to Tokyo Olympics.

The men will take on Ghana, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Congo and hosts South Africa for the Euro-African stage.

What has been termed the Ghana/Burkina Faso experience is galvanising the Baseball Association to plan even a lot bigger now. But first, they want to get to Tokyo.

“This last competition we played in Ghana was such an opener for us in terms of achieving growth in Nigeria and internationally,” Dic-Willie said. “We are exchanging a lot of ideas with our friends in Ghana and Burkina Faso, and we have realised that there are quite a lot to do.

“Opportunities to get help abound, but we have to tidy up a lot of things back home. And one of the ways of getting up so high is to pursue the run to the Olympics. Once we are able to get that far opportunities should open quite more for the players and teams,” he said.

Speaking further, Dic-Willie said: “Getting to this stage has been quite encouraging, but I can imagine how good it would be if the Nigerian Olympic contingents lands in Japan with the baseball and softball teams.”

Dic-Willie, who is also the Chairman of the Rivers State Baseball and Softball Association, told The Guardian that they have received help from notable individuals and a few corporate bodies in their quest to build up the game in Nigeria.

He says that Gen. Ishola Williams (rtd), who has been a father figure for Nigeria baseball and softball remains a formidable source of help to the current players.

“And of course Ndi Okereke-Onyuike is still giving full support. The President, Baseball and Softball Nigeria Victor Fingesi is doing everything possible to take us to where we want to reach,” he added.

GCA ENERGY Limited, an indigenous oil and gas company bankrolled the national team’s trip to Ghana for the first stage of the qualifiers. The same firm is playing quite a huge role for the trip to Johannesburg.

But Dic-Willie is not the only one feeling so sure about the future and the hope of reaching Tokyo 2020. The national coach, Ike Magnus, and the Development Secretary, Samson Omotosho, are equally hopeful.

Magnus says more corporate and government support would see the team going far. “If we can get more support, we can crossover to the Euro/Africa stage and battle for the tickets to the Olympics. We are more competitive now.

“The European challenge makes it look quite tough, but we are capable. Funding challenges left us camping for just 10 days before we went to Ghana but more support from government and corporate world will make things a lot easier for the team. Incentives will surely ginger players to extra levels,” Magnus stated.

On his part, Omotosho said he sees a bright future for the game: “We are taking the games to the schools more than before. We have as many as 15 schools in Lagos, for instance, and about seven in Kwara that are engaged seriously in the game. This may sound low but it has never been so. Other states are moving up and we will keep expanding for the future.

“The states and their principal officers have been challenged to do more. And we are also reaching out to the higher institutions,” Omotosho stated.

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