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Lee Edward Evans – to be remembered, celebrated, immortalised in Abeokuta |

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A few days into the month of November, my mind is set on my late friend, African/American legendary athlete and international coach, Lee Edward Evans.

I have told his incredible story many times before. I cannot be tired of doing so because he was a good man.

Lee was one of the greatest athletes and international sprints coaches in history. His records are legion. He broke world records 11 times in different middle distance sprints events, including one that lasted for 25 years before it was broken.

He won two Olympic Gold medals, and broke the world records in the process. He retired into coaching of young athletes around the world starting from Nigeria in the mid-1970s working with the Nigerian Sports Commission as well as the Nigerian Athletics Federation at different times and for many decades, supporting, impacting and producing some of the best sprinters in Nigeria’s history.

In 2021, he died in Nigeria, and was buried according to his wishes and that of his family in Africa. The significance of that cannot be lost to anyone.

Having the first African/American athletics legend to be laid to rest on African soil, within the premises of the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy, SOCA, the small sports school where he worked, trained and inspired young boys and girls to follow in his footpath and become the best athletes in the world through programs that would have taken them to the best centres of athletics development in American Colleges, is a big deal.

Although he did not complete his mission before he passed on, during the last two years that we spent together in my house and in the sports school, he shared his dreams with me. I owe him their fulfilment if I can.

I have been planning to celebrate him annually, and to use the opportunity to sustain and upgrade the athletics development program that he began within SOCA. I have already invited his assistant from the USA to Nigeria, as well as working towards the introduction of an annual international senior-secondary school athletics competition named after him to take place in Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The plan is to develop it into one of the biggest international athletics meet for under-18 secondary school students in the world. It all starts with a tentative first step, one that will hold on November 24 and 25, 2023, at the MKO Abiola Stadium, in Abeokuta. Schools in Nigeria are being invited to register, to be a part of the event and be a part of history.

The next two weeks are going to be frenetic as I try to make that event happen. This is to ask all those that can support this humble project to do so by contacting me.

Cup Dream
That Cannot Die
‘Never curse the darkness. Underneath it is a hidden treasure.’

These are words of wisdom carved on the altar of deep philosophy. In order words, ‘In every disappointment there is a blessing’. The secret is that if you can’t find the blessing, create it.

For a little while this past week my spirit was dampened.

FIFA gifted the priciest sports event in the world to Saudi Arabia on a platter. Everyone that knows me also knows that my biggest dream, one that I have been working on for 20 years, is that West Africa should bid to host the first authentic African Cup. I was hoping it would happen when the bidding for the 2034 Cup is to be done.

Almost from the blue, through a most obscure process, the dream was punctuated this past week, leaving me initially angry. My shock was that I expected some protest from football buffs, who may share some of my concerns that things do not add up in the process adopted in announcing the host of the 2034 Cup last week. Instead, to my utter astonishment, there has been a deafening silence!

Only a few weeks separate the announcement of the hosts for the 2030 Cup and last week’s for 2034 by FIFA. The bid process for 2034 must go down as the fastest and shortest in history. It was so bewildering it must have caught everyone except the puppeteers in mid-step.

There was no second bidder. Saudi Arabia was declared automatic hosts as sole bidder. The country has been spending money within the football space these past few years, either ‘buying’ or compromising many.

Even my country’s FA announced their own support before the Saudi bid was even submitted, and ostensibly without seeking the position of the government of Nigeria on the matter. The whole thing reeks with suspicion!

The entire process left me stranded in confusion.

Although, officially not on the table, the concept of rotating the Cup equitably amongst the continents always underlined and influenced who got the rights. Under Infantino, that has evaporated.

The Middle East that hosted the Cup in Qatar only two years ago is being offered another opportunity within the space of 12 years. Yet, Oceania had never hosted the event, and by 2034, it would have been 24 years since Africa hosted for the first and only time.

Giovani is clever. He navigated through that unwritten rule by adding Morocco to the list of countries spread across four other continents to co-host the Centennial Cup in 2030.

The truth is that Morocco is more Arab than African, and offering it a few group matches cannot count as Africa’s second hosting of the Cup.

From the events of this past week, it is now clear that Giovanni wanted to donate the 2034 Cup to Saudi Arabia, for whatever reason. He cleared the path and succeeded last week by announcing that as sole bidder, Saudi Arabia has qualified as sole host of the 2034 Cup.

After the experiences from the co-hosting of the 2026 and 2030 editions, the Cup of 48 countries in one single country may turn into a nightmare. The present silence reeks of a conspiracy oiled my Arab-Dollars, too tempting and powerful to resist.

So, I have chosen to drink from the altar of wisdom, to swallow the bitter pill of disappointment, and start to look beneath the ‘darkness’ for the hidden ‘treasures’ that lie there. 2034 may have been mortgaged to mammon, but there is an alternative – 2038? Why not?

Or better still, whenever it is deemed Africa’s turn to host the Cup again, it should be known that the West African sub-region is the most qualified and most deserving host of the next authentic Cup in Africa. The Cup in West Africa is a dream that shall never die. It will come whenever it will come!

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