Fasimoye, the Lagos Stallion, who conquered Dubai men’s rugby open
Vice President of the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF), Olatunji Fasimoye, is one of the few Nigerian young men, whose lives revolve around the game. A fascinating player in his days, Fasimoye has been championing the growth of rugby, which is one of the fastest rising sports in the country.
Aside winning the Nigerian league for several seasons with first, Racing RFC and then, Cowrie RFC, Fasimoye earned a legendary status playing for the senior national team, the Stallions, which he led to many victories within West Africa and beyond. But Fasimoye’s interest in rugby was fortuitous. He didn’t know much about the game until a chance encounter with some players at the British International School, Lagos.
Narrating his entry into the sport, the Ikeja Primary School product said he was lured into the game when he went to the British International School (BIS) with a friend of his to watch a practice session in the early 1980s.
“After watching the game carefully, I was hooked by the unique techniques…so the following week I returned to BIS with my kits to join the kids in training without the knowledge of my friend.
“My growth in the sport showed that I was made for it because it did not take me much time to graduate from a grassroots player to the Nigerian national team, the Black Stallions.”
Before his foray into rugby, the young schoolboy was into athletics, specialising in long jump, which he did for Ikeja Primary School.
“When I moved to Ikeja High School, I played basketball and football, in which I was the first choice goalkeeper from Class one until I left the school.
“At the Federal Polytechnic, Offa, Kwara State, I was actively involved in basketball, but I switched over full time to rugby when I got admission to study at the Lagos State University,” he revealed.
Just like many budding sportsmen of his time, Fasimoye’s sojourn in sports was not without the usual opposition from his parents and siblings.
He revealed that losing his parents’ demise early in his life nearly scuttled his bid to become a rugby star, adding that his siblings at first were not comfortable because of the physical nature of the sport. “They eventually accepted the fact that I was destined for the game,” he said.
Although he went on to build a stature in rugby, Fasimoye said he would have been driven away from the sport in his early days when a major on the field tragedy shook him to his marrows.
“The incident happened during a World Cup qualifier in the 1990s against Cameroun. We needed to win the game to move closer to the World Cup, but an accident that shattered one of my teammates’ gums inside the main bowl of the National Stadium, Lagos, almost drove me away from the sport.
“The injury was so severe because he refused to wear a gum shield. I almost left the sport because of that incident, but to God be the glory I was encouraged to move on,’’ he said.
Looking back to the early days of the sport, Fasimoye admits that rugby has changed a lot due to the development of the game across the world.
Since quitting the sport in the 1990s, Fasimoye, who combines the NRFF vice presidency position with his job as the federation’s technical adviser, has been working for a real estate firm, CMB, as one of its top management staff.
His biggest regret, as a former rugby star, is that he did not win any major laurel for the Black Stallions. This he attributes to the low level of support the sport gets from the government and the private sector. But he says he will forever cherish the opportunity he got to captain the national team.
He also relishes his time with Lagos club, Cowrie RFC, saying that winning all the competitions the team featured in in the country, including the league, as well as winning the plate at the International Men’s Rugby Open Championship in Dubai for Racing RFC and Cowrie RFC are moments in his career he will forever cherish.
As the technical adviser of the rugby body, Fasimoye says his ambition is to raise rugby to the level it enjoys in Europe, adding that with more financial support from government and individuals, the sport will take its place among the staples of Nigerian sports lovers.
Fasimoye, who is regarded as one of the brains behind the rising profile of Nigerian rugby, says his quest to raise super stars of the sport has already started yielding fruits with the exploits of Christian Ogar from Jos, who now pliés his trade in the South African league.
“Christian Ogar is a great example of our grassroots development programme. He currently plays for Belhar Rugby Club in Cape Town, South Africa. He was spotted in one of the tournaments in Jos and we brought him to Lagos, polished his potential and he is now arguably the best player we have ever discovered in the country.
“Getting boys and girls involved in the game remains my goal. At the moment, we have over 20 players employed by my company (CMB) just to play rugby. We train them on their specific competence and also encourage them to go to school and become better people in feature.
“With this, we have really brought many youths out of the streets to actualise their dreams through the sport. The challenges of getting more companies involved in the game of Rugby to the level enjoyed now by football, is our major objective in the NRFF,” he said.