Founder of aclsports.com Calvin Emeka Onwuka is one of many former African student-athletes who have made a name for themselves in sports. Calvin is an internationally acclaimed sports journalist, a career that has spanned over 20 years.
As part of the Nigerian football team that took part in the 1991 Summer Universiade in Sheffield England, the Nigerian side was knocked out in the quarter-final stages and finished 7th in the overall ranking, but Calvin describes his experience as life changing.
Describe your experience as a student athlete at the world university games in 1991 Sheffield England Universiade.
At World University Games in 1991, the experience was something. Its so unfortunate actually that the biggest experience for me at that time which still goes on till now is that it let me know how thoroughly incompetent how shamelessly incompetent Nigerian Sports Administrators can be. It was an absolute fuss and the stuff that happened which I am compiling in a book anyway, there is a chapter in the book where I titled it ‘The Sheffield Experience’ yes but the competition itself was so beautiful in the sense that it was my first time going abroad and we were all in a Games Village that we were among the first people to get into the building.
The building was beautiful. It was summer in England at the time but for us coming from Nigeria it was not summer, it was pretty cold because Sheffield is in Northern England and throughout the time we were there, I don’t think the temperature got higher than 22 degrees and that was cold for us but I mean, I remember when we go to play our matches and there was one particular game I think we were to play and those of us who started the game left our track suit top in the dressing room, that was the problem, when you start the game you leave your track suits you don’t even think about it because you going to play and you are warm. So when you are now subbed and you come and sit on the bench, Oh my God!
The cold as your body cools down but according to the locals it wasn’t cold it was normal. At night we used to go to the disco that was for everybody there and what I noticed was how the US athletes used to take one corner of the center and it was only them and they only used to dance with each other and they had this fantastic all black with red USA lettering at the back track suits they never came out without those USA track suits. They just looked like they were not on our level and these are the things I remember but overall it was okay and a fantastic experience.
I loved the closing ceremony which the Queen came and Whitney Houston came to perform her one moment in time music and we were all there, the closing ceremony was really beautiful so yeah it’s not something I can forget. I loved it. Making the team to represent Nigeria is still something that I have never forgotten and I loved how they used to read out the names of the Nigerians, read out my name it made me feel cool because I was representing Nigeria.
How important is the University games for athletes? does it contribute to or hinder athlete development towards becoming early professionals?
A. Well, the truth is that on the face of it, it should be exceptionally important, I know that for a lot of people before us attending World University Games thought it would help them get scholarship to American Universities and it did. It is important for athletes especially people who were ready to go further and become professional athletes, it is going to be important for them. There is nothing about it that hinders anybody at all, it does not hinder anybody in anyway. It is brilliant, it is such a fantastic way to become professional. It is almost like all the age group football competitions that FIFA established. When FIFA started the under 19 now under 20 world cup, the aim was to let young people know what it feels to represent their country at a young age so that as they get older things will be better. So no it does not hinder in any way at all. It is something that I will always encourage anybody who has the opportunity to compete to represent the country at the World University Games to go ahead and do it. There is nothing to lose at all by doing it.
African participation at the Universiade has not been well documented, why do you think this is?
African participation, how much of African history were documented? Its failure on the continent and absolute disgrace to the continent that we are never able to, we are never ready, we are never prepared to document our own things. We wait for Europeans to come and do it for us, we wait for South Americans to come and do our own documentation for us so I am not surprised that it is not documented at al. a lot of people who have been at this event, nobody remembers them, nobody thinks about them, nobody even talks about them.
I only find out about people when I’m either watching Olympics or the World Athletics Championship or World Championships of any event that you will hear that xyz person from this country in Africa is also a World Universaide champion that he either played taekwondo or fought at xyz university games and in xyz year, so it is nothing new. It is the failing of our continent and it is something that is not only limited to what is going on in the world university games participation.
The Nigerian University Games Association has not represented a stable body in organizing University sports in the country, how do we rectify this? First in Nigeria then in Africa as a continent
A. You know what I said at the beginning about the World University Games was of 91 introduced me to the incompetence and sheer shameless incompetence of Nigerian Sports Administrators. I think the major problem with Nigeria and Nigerian Sports Administrators is that 90 percent of the time when they take up organizing things they have no holistic approach neither do they have long-term approach to how or what will be gained by the athlete, what will be gained by the country and what will be gained by the wider community for those competitions. 90percent of these people are thinking of how they will make money from this tournament, how are we going to make money from this festival that’s all.
So I am not surprised at all, back in 1991, I remember that not only did we have the NUGA Games, we also had the Pepsi Cola football tournament, now that was 91, I desired to play in that tournament to help University of Lagos win that tournament but by the time we got to the quarter-final stage, Pepsi Cola had pulled out saying there were not getting mileage for the money they were investing and who were they investing this money into? NFA and NUGA. They were saying that the NFA should have taken the tournament competition from the very first round. NFA did not used to get involved until they got to the quarter-finals so Pepsi pulled out. This is typical of the way things go on in the country. I have scant respect for quite a number of those sports administrators from back then; the ones now, they are probably, they are not even that much better.
Pride of participation or medals, which do you think is the most essential for African University sports athletes?
A. In my view you don’t go into a tournament or a competition without wanting to win something. So even though you have the pride for participating, you cannot go into participate and cannot win medals so I can’t take one or the other. They both should go hand-in-hand that is what I think. But again, one of the advantages at that age, at that level is once you go to these things you get to interact with your mates, you could make friends that will last a lifetime, friends that can help you in future but you don’t go in there without wanting to win, no, you have to win something.
How can we generate more interest in the University sports scene in Africa?
A. I swear, the easiest thing to generate interest in University sports, in school sports is just whether anybody is in the mood to do it genuinely in the mood to do it. Why is it easy? Because your target market, the people you want, your target audience are already in place, they are in universities, they are on campus so how hard is that to whip up the interest. I know what it used to be like for tournament on campus, festivals on campus so generating interest is not a problem. For something like this, you don’t to even bother about the outside people because there are enough numbers inside campuses to keep the interest going year on and year out to it is just whether people are in the mood to do the right thing.