Victor Ochei Wheelchair Basketball Championship lights up Lagos

Wheelchair basketballers preparing for the 2016 Victor Ochei championship in Lagos.

Wheelchair basketballers preparing for the 2016 Victor Ochei championship in Lagos.

WBFN President Canvasses National Honour For Sponsor

The stage is set once again for the annual Victor Ochei International Wheelchair Basketball Championship in Lagos.

The competition, which is specially designed for special athletes in Nigeria and countries in the West African sub region, is in its fifth edition, and the Wheelchair Basketball Federation Of Nigeria (WBFN), headed by Bukola Olapade, says everything is in place for a hitch free championship.

This year’s edition of the championship will hold at the Sir Molade Okoya Thomas Indoor Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere.

Organisers have set aside tomorrow as arrival date, while the championship will run from Monday, October 3 to 8, with countries like Cameroun, Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana already confirmed for the event.

The championship was earlier fixed for September, but was moved to October because of the recently concluded Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Before the commencement of the 4th edition of the championship last year, the sponsor, Victor Ochei, a former Speaker of Delta State House of Assembly, vowed never to abandon the project despite the biting economic situation in the country. He said sponsoring the wheelchair basketball championship on annual basis was his commitment to the physically-challenged athletes in Nigeria.

He told The Guardian then that he would continue to empower them through various programmes, particularly sports because, according to him, “there is always a surprise package from the special athletes.”

Team Nigeria’s wheelchair basketball side narrowly missed a ticket to the Paralympic Games in Rio, after Ochei single handedly funded the qualifiers of both male and female teams to Algeria.

The disappointment of not picking a ticket to the Paralympic Games in Rio not withstanding, Ochei’s passion for wheelchair basketball has not waived.

According to Olapade, the sum of N5 million has been earmarked as prize money for winners at this year’s edition of the championship. Fifteen states have entered for the event, just as some para-military teams are also expected to participate.

Olapade is full of appreciation to the sponsor, Sir Victor Ochei, who after leaving office as Speaker of the Delta House of Assembly still sponsors the championship. “This really shows that he is committed to the Special athletes and the development of the game in the country,” Olapade told The Guardian yesterday.

He described Ochei as an exceptional leader that is worth emulating saying: “His continue sponsorship of the games despite not in government is something that is not common in the African continent. He should be commended because it is rare to see somebody who is no more in government still spending his money on any championship. This shows that he is not doing it to achieve personal gains, but to help in the empowerment of the special sport athletes and also to develop the game in the country.

“He spends between N30 million to N40 million every year in sponsoring wheelchair basketball programmes both at the local and international level. He has empowered so many Nigerian youths through this wheelchair basketball programme.

“Before the maiden edition of the Victor Ochei Wheelchair Basketball Championship five years ago, Nigeria had only four wheelchair basketball players featuring for clubs abroad. But today, the country can boast over 20 wheelchair basketball players in different countries. That is a remarkable achievement for our country, and I feel the Federal Government should single out people like Victor Ochei for national honour as a way of encouraging others to invest in our sports.”

This year’s edition of the championship will be used to select male and female players that will fly Nigeria’s flag in the Africa U-23 Championship in Durban, South Africa. The competition in Durban, which will run from December 7 to 16, will serve as African qualifiers for the World U-23 Wheelchair basketball Championship.

Four years ago, Nigeria finished second in the African qualifiers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite losing the World Cup ticket then, Victor Ochei showered about $50,000 on the players and their officials for their effort.

“That was the biggest surprise I have ever seen in my life,” Olapade said. “We went to Johannesburg four years ago and finished second in the World Cup qualifiers. Ordinarily, some people would have been angry with the players and officials for losing the World Cup ticket, but Ochei gave the team $50,000. That was outside the money he spent in purchasing flight tickets for the entire contingent, payment of hotel accommodation, feeding and payment of daily allowances for players and officials throughout the duration of the competition. We want the Federal Government to also encourage him,” Olopade stated.

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