Forty-seven years after, Air Peace is set to honour Team Nigeria athletes who could not participate in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada due to boycott of the championship by Nigeria and 27 other African countries.
Also to be recognised with listing in the newly created Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Sports Diplomacy Wall of Fame on July 27 is the 1980 AFCON winning squad.
The chairman of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, disclosed this while briefing journalists in Lagos.
Onyema said he was motivated to carry out the Wall of Fame project as a way to honour the athletes for their huge sacrifices.
“We promised to build a Wall of fame where their names will be written in gold. I also enjoin other corporate organisations and well-meaning individuals to join in honouring these sports heroes however they can.
“We are talking about Nigerian athletes who used their prime to serve this country. They arrived Montreal, Canada and just on the eve of the opening ceremony, were asked to pack their bags and leave camp because Nigeria and the rest of Africa had resolved to boycott the Games as a result of the support some countries were giving apartheid in South Africa. The AFCON Team of 1980 will also be recognised for their feat.
“The 1976 athletes had prepared for four years. Some were on top of their events like Charlton Ehizuelen, Imadiyi, Bruce Ijirigho and our 4x400m men’s relay team that were sure gold or silver medal hopefuls.
“In fact, Ehizuelen had the world leading jump to the Olympics. They jettisoned their dreams because of Nigeria. Most didn’t recover and never had the opportunities to become Olympic medalists again in their lifetime.
“These former athletes and the 1980 AFCON winning squad are those to be honoured as Air Peace Sports Diplomacy Ambassadors come July 28, 2023,” Onyema said.
Apart from listing the athletes in the Wall of Fame, Onyema also pledged to give some cash rewards as well as flight tickets to each of those still alive.
He said 12 return tickets would be given for flying local destinations and one return ticket annually to any of the airline’s international destinations.
Onyema decried tribalism which he said is holding the country down, stressing that as for him, he would continue to promote “broad nationalism.”
“I love this country. Our diversity should be our strength, not an albatross. The source of some of our problems is holding on tight to the issues of ethnicity and tribalism.
“Sports is a veritable tool for unifying the nation, hence my investment in it. That’s why I support sports development. Tribalism is not helping us. Ethnic nationalism is what we have but what I seek to promote through my initiatives is broad nationalism,” he added.
In his response, former Green Eagles Captain, Mr. Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami, who was also in the 1976 football team to the Montreal Games, commended Onyema for his massive contributions to Nigeria’s sports development, especially his sponsorship of the Nigerian National Teams in a deal with the NFF.
Odegbami disclosed that out of the 45 Nigerian athletes who were in Montreal for the Games, twenty of them had died, while almost half of those alive have health challenges.
“For the 1980 AFCON squad, six have died while five others are nursing one ailment or the other. I am only fortunate by God’s grace to be amongst those with good health,” he added.