It’s 7 a.m. on the morning of November 3, 2023, and I find myself at the MKO Abiola International Stadium in Kuto, Abeokuta, ready to pick up three close friends, each a hometown hero in their own right. Coach Abayomi Ashipa, a former National High Jump champion and NUGA Games Record Holder; Coach Dele Elegbede, a former National Walking Event champion and 20km Race Walk National Record Holder; and Coach Elele (Akinpelu Saheed Ayinde), a former elite 400m runner, NIPOGA, and National games champion.

Together, the four of us embark on a journey to Otunba Dina Stadium in Ijebu Ode for the second edition of the Tobi Amusan/Abiola Onakoya Sprints and Relay Tournament.

The event’s hosts, Tobi Amusan, a World 110m champion and record holder, and Abiola Onakoya, a former National 400m athlete, both hail from Ogun State and organize this annual athletic event to showcase and boost local and national talent.

Upon arriving at the Ijebu Ode stadium, pre-event activities are in full swing. Athletes register for their respective events, and a sizable crowd of spectators gathers in the stands. Although I had intended to compete in the Masters Series Sprint, it was canceled for logistical reasons. Instead, I join my friends, who are officiating, and a lively crowd of 3,000 in witnessing a historic moment as around 500 young athletes from Ogun State and across the country compete in Sprints and Relay events throughout the day.

The atmosphere is electric, and amidst the excitement, I reflect on the transformative power of sports – its impact on health, its ability to channel youthful energy positively, and its role in providing educational and economic opportunities for those with exceptional talent. It serves as a unifying force across diverse peoples and cultures.

The event also prompts thoughts about Ogun State’s rich sporting history and its knack for identifying and nurturing talents. Four key factors contribute to the state’s success in this arena.

Firstly, Ogun State boasts a youthful population and a high concentration of academic institutions, creating a fertile ground for sporting talent to thrive. Examples abound, such as Kehinde Olude, Ayomide Badru, Toheebat Jimoh, and 16-year-old John Caleb, who achieved a personal best of 10.47 seconds in the 100m men’s event.

Secondly, top-notch facilities and venues capable of hosting major events contribute to the state’s sporting prowess. Currently preparing to host the National Sports Festival (Gateway Games 2024) for the second time, Ogun State aims to showcase its sporting infrastructure, indigenous culture, and talent.

The third crucial factor is the unwavering support and engagement of the community. Government officials, sports enthusiasts, school teachers, local coaches, and philanthropic individuals like Governor Prince Dapo Abiodun and Late Chief MKO Abiola play instrumental roles in mentoring and investing in the careers of talented youth.

The final noteworthy factor is the vibrant sports media industry in the state, with veteran journalists like Alhaji Akeem Akintunde and Biodun Alabi contributing to the elevation of indigenous sporting heroes.

Leaving the Tobi Amusan/Abiola Onakoya Sprints and Relay Tournament, I carry a sense of pride in Ogun State’s enduring tradition of identifying and nurturing sporting talents. This, to me, reflects the state’s dynamic character, inspired leadership, the passionate commitment of its people to sports, and the pride in its homegrown heroes. Undoubtedly, this tradition will continue to thrive. Cheers to the future.

Tunde Delu Public Analyst and Sports Enthusiast.