The victory of the polish teenager, Iga Swiatek at the 2020 French opens is a big lesson for Nigerian education and sports administrators
When last year, 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, a Polish secondary school graduate, made history by being the first Pole to win a French Open singles title and the youngest winner since 1992, many were surprised. But her victory was not a fluke but a well-planned one.
Swiatek, who was born on May 31, 2001, has had her sporting career meticulously planned alongside her education, and fully supported and guided by her father, Tomasz, who was a former Olympian. Despite a blossoming sporting career, she took time to study and finish her secondary school education, with Mathematics as her best subject.
Her victory at Roland Garros made her joined the likes of Chris Evert of the USA, Evonne Goolagong of Australia, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain, Steffi Graff of Germany and Monica Seles of Yugoslavia who have won the French Open before they turned 20. Her victory was sweeter as the unseeded Polish went through the tournament without dropping a set in all her seven singles matches. The last time this happened in Paris was 13 years ago with the performance of Justine Henin of Belgium.
As a junior tennis player, Swiatek achieved some success on the world stage winning the 2018 French Open girls’ double title with Cathy McNally, the 2018 Wimbledon girls’ single title, the Junior Federation Cup crown in 2016 with the Polish team and winning a gold medal for Poland at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics together with Slovenian Kaja Juvan.
Swiatek began playing tennis regularly on the WTA Tour in 2019 and was able to break into the top 50 after her first year with a fourth-round appearance at the French Open, where she was defeated by Simona Halep; the Canadian Open, where she defeated Caroline Wozniacki but lost to Naomi Osaka; and the US Open, where she reached the third round before losing to Victoria Azarenka.
Many Poles saw Swiatek’s French Open victory as a huge image booster for their country. President Andrzej Duda called her a great ambassador of the country as he tweeted: “Great thanks and congratulations for @iga_swiatek! A historic day for Poland, for Polish sport and Polish tennis. Bravo!
Robert Lewandowski, a Pole and the Bayern Munich striker, could also not hide his feelings. “What an amazing success, what a great story! Good job@iga swiatek”, he tweeted.
Her victory is also a pointer that sports and education can be properly tailored to accommodate each other. So what lesson can be learnt by Nigerians by this Polish teenager’s victory on the world stage?
Swiatek did not become a world champion overnight. It took tutelage, encouragement and having a system whereby she could participate in sports activities, yet not missing out in her academic pursuit.
Mr Waidi Amao, a Primary School Teacher, regretted the fact that the state governments and many private school owners are not paying enough attention to the need for sports and extra-curricular activities in schools, which serve as a grooming ground for talents discovery and mentorship.
“It is regrettably a pity what is obtainable in our school system sport-wise. Stakeholders and shareholders in the education sector seem to have jettisoned the needs for sports and sporting facilities in our schools,” he said.
Mrs Josephine Efosa, an Educationist, bemoaned the precarious situation in the country’s education sector, especially in the area of establishing a sustainable but symbiotic relationship between sports and academic activities.
Efosa stated that most primary and secondary schools across the country do not have ordinary football playing fields that will motivate sporting interest in the pupils.
“You see, if you take a tour of schools in many states, you will discover to your dismay, that even common football fields are not in place, and for most of them that have what looks like one, you will notice that those football fields are filled with bumps and stones. Nobody talks about lawn tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, gymnastic halls, and others facilities again. Things were better in those days when some schools were under the missionaries. It just seems as if the policymakers and administrators of education are bent on destroying the good foundations laid by the pathfinders of the industry”, she stated.
Efosa explained that in the 1960s, the Nigerian government through the National Educational Curriculum made effort to lay a solid foundation for Physical Education. The curriculum was reviewed later making Physical and Health Education compulsory.
Mr Chukwuma Okonkwo, a Parent, said parents should support their children in their endeavours, including sports. He regretted that his mother did not support his desire to be a great tennis player.
“In my primary school days, we had a young teacher who was in love with the game of Lawn Tennis. Almost every evening, after school hours, he would gather us together for tennis lessons. I fell in love with the game and was greatly making progress before my mother stepped in and stopped me from attending practices. My mother would always say, ‘nobody becomes great playing tennis’, but today see what a change the world has become. Youths are achieving great feats through sports,” he said.
Parents need to understand that a child can become great and fulfilled in life through sports. Maximum supports from parents can also bring out the best in a child.
Nigeria needs a structure that will help young sportsmen and women get to the next level of their career. There should be players’ development programmes in our schools for youth who chose to venture into sports. Past sports stars could be engaged to drive these programmes in various states and schools of the federation.
Of recent, Efosa said that Chioma Ajunwa, the first Nigerian individual Olympic gold medal winner, launched a foundation to discover and nurture young talents between 10 to 17 years of age.
“If such a noble project is to succeed, schools and government must be involved. A child of 10 to 17 years is expected to be in school, and if the school curriculum does not accommodate enough space for him or her to participate in sports, then the goal is as good as dead, or better still, it will be geared towards raising illiterates in sports,” Efosa said.
Sport more than ever before is commanding global attention, besides; it is a viable means of foreign exchange earner for the country. Its influence on world peace, economy and the development of social relationships also cannot be underestimated. It is against this background that most nations, such as Sweden, the USA, France, and others have come to appreciate the need to invest heavily in school sports.
Experts have consistently stated that sports and education are irreversibly interwoven, one promotes the other. One is also embedded in the other as sports form parts of education, so education provides platforms by which different aspects of sports manifest its practices and activities.
Sports has become a social phenomenon of modern times in all ramifications of education, politics, economic, foreign policy and diplomatic relations. Success in sport also has an impact on a country’s prestige, status and respectability.
There is no doubt that there are many Iga Swiateks in Nigeria waiting to blossom given the right environment of structures, policies, plans and systems that will drive the discovery, nurture and encouragement of these skills.
It is high time Nigeria put the needed structures in place that will drive sports and education to the peak and position the country amongst the best at the