Nigerian polo player Neku Atawodi is excited about the future of polo in Africa and its ability to bring people together from all walks of life
Polo is fast becoming a popular sport for millennial women in Nigeria, and they are a common sight at the upscale Lagos Polo Club.
What was once an elite sport is now more accessible.olo is fast becoming a popular sport for millennial women in Nigeria, and they are a common sight at the upscale Lagos Polo Club.
It’s a far cry from the sport’s early years that completely banned women such as American polo pioneer Sue Sally Hale from playing in the 1950s.
Hale’s response was to disguise herself as a man by tucking her ash-colored hair under a helmet, flattening her breasts with tape and wearing loose-fitting men’s shirts and a moustache for nearly 20 years. She finally dispensed with the ruse in 1972 when the US Polo Association bowed to pressure and admitted her to its ranks. Her story reverberated all over the world and to Nigeria’s Benue State, where a young lady named Neku Atawodi was duly inspired to take up the sport.
Known popularly as Nigeria’s ‘polo queen’ and one of the few black women in the sport internationally, Atawodi is an equestrian for life.
“I grew up in Kaduna and that is a very polo town. They are very influenced by horse-riding and durbars and so Kaduna had an affinity towards polo but also, my uncle lived next door and he had horses in his backyard. I remember watching polo events and falling in love with them when I was in junior secondary school. I loved everything from the horses to the players. I started riding with everyone,” she says.
With the riders maneuvering the magnificent horses under the mellow Nigerian sun, hooves kicking up dust, she fell in love with the ‘sport of kings’.
After taking a break from polo, during which time she got married, had a child and became the country director of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) training tech entrepreneurs, Atawodi returned to the sport in August for the United Kingdom’s first-ever Africa-dedicated polo event, the Lux Afrique Polo Day that celebrated the sport and the best of pan-African history and culture.
The event brought together leading polo players from across Africa to champion the rapidly-growing sport and provide a platform for young and emerging African talent to showcase their skills. For Atawodi, it was time to get back to the basics.
“It is really intense. After having a child, it is a lot of things you need to get back to like the gym and working on flexibility and endurance and then a lot of riding. I have to work a lot on my hand-to-eye coordination. I play a lot of tennis as well as do a lot of cardio,” says Atawodi.
Despite several infrastructural challenges playing the sport in Nigeria, including a lack of well-developed training programs encouraging people to enter the sport as well as limited fields to play on, Atawodi is excited about the future of the sport and its ability to bring people from all walks of life together.
“We are at a time where Africa is telling its own stories in so many different industries. So for it to also now come in things like polo, with different parts of Africa coming together to play the sport and showcase skills, is amazing. It fosters great strength and African unity and I am really looking forward to it,” says the African queen of the ‘sport of kings’.
Namibia To Kick It Up A Notch
The Welwitschias are committed to world cup glory, and to elevate other structures within Namibian rugby.
Namibia’s 20-year hunt for a victory at the Rugby World Cup will continue in Japan later this year, where Africa’s second best rugby nation face a daunting pool that includes ‘big brother’ South Africa and defending champions New Zealand.
Namibia have shown a marked improvement in recent tournaments and swept to qualification for the 2019 World Cup in emphatic style by lifting the Rugby Africa Gold Cup, a competition that does not include the Springboks.
Under Welsh coach Phil Davies, who will be leading the team for the second time at the global showpiece tournament, Namibian rugby has improved in leaps and bounds, even while the country’s union struggles with funds to keep the game afloat.
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The Welwitschias, as the side are known, have lost all 19 previous games at the World Cup since their first qualification in 1999, but in the last tournament in England scored their most points (70) and conceded their fewest (174) in a pool that also included eventual winners New Zealand.
“We are positive we can continue to make improvements at the World Cup and get that first win,” Corrie Mensah, president of the Namibia Rugby Union, told FORBES AFRICA in an exclusive interview from Windhoek.
“Together with the head coach [Davies], we have mapped out a plan for the build-up to the tournament and already have most of our players together in camp.
“We have a tough program, the guys know they have to work hard to be part of our World Cup plans, but the preparation is there, the structures are in place and we are looking forward to a big year for Namibian rugby.”
The side open their World Cup campaign against Italy, in Higashiōsaka on September 22, before a clash with the Springboks in Toyota, six days later and another encounter against the All Blacks in Tokyo on October 6.
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But the game the team will, realistically, be targeting for their first victory is the match-up with fellow minnows Canada, in their final pool match in Kamaishi a week later.
“Our main objective is to get that first World Cup win,” Mensah says. “That would be a big moment for Namibian rugby and another sign that we are on an upward curve. I think then we could call our tournament a success.
“The second objective is to try and be competitive against the All Blacks, Springboks and Italy. If we can do that, with a fraction of the resources of those sides, then we can say we are punching above our weight.”
Namibia will compete in the 2019 World Rugby Nations Cup in Uruguay in June along with the hosts, Romania and Russia, which will give them three matches against fellow second-tier nations.
They then defend their title in the African Gold Cup, before playing a couple of World Cup warm-up games that have yet to be confirmed.
The team will also play in South Africa’s domestic SuperSport Rugby Challenge, a tournament that has proven vital in giving their players quality, competitive matches that they would, simply, not get at home.
But while the team continues to show improvement on the pitch, Mensah admits that it has been a hard slog off it to keep Namibian rugby’s development goals in place.
“The biggest challenge we face is a financial one and the allocation of grants from World Rugby should be used in the right areas,” Mensah says.
“High performance grants should go to high performance protocols, development funds likewise. Making sure we do that is a major commitment we have made.”
Mensah has also committed to improving other structures within Namibian rugby, away from the senior men’s team.
“We have had major difficulties, with the economic slump in the country, in terms of attracting sponsorship, which has had a major impact on our league structures.
“Women’s rugby is non-existent in Namibia, but it is part of our strategic plan to get it off the ground.
The place to start is with regional teams, which we are seeking to do this year, and then, hopefully, in future that filters down to club sides.”
Mensah is also hoping to improve Namibia’s Sevens structures, with that version of the game growing in popularity around the world.
“With Sevens … it is about creating a whole new culture around it because it is not something that is traditional to Namibian rugby.
“It is part of our three and five-year strategic plans, but again the funding for that kind of development is a challenge. We need to get players into an academy structure and work with them constantly, but that all costs a lot of money.”
In many ways, Namibia, with a population of 2.6-million is already punching above their weight just to be at the World Cup, especially with their fiscal challenges.
But how far they can go in terms of developing rugby in the country is an exciting prospect, and a good showing in Japan will confirm that they are a nation on the rise.
Simidele Adeagbo: What I Learned From The Most Terrifying Winter Olympics Sport
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, I became the first African and black woman to compete in the daring sport of Skeleton.
Skeleton, in which athletes hurl themselves on a sled, head first, down a frozen ice track at 80 miles per hour, is considered by some to be the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport. I never imagined I would find myself hurtling down an icy hill on a metal, carbon fiber tray of sorts with no brakes, safety belt or steering mechanism.
But when I discovered the sport about 100 days before the Olympics, I was motivated to take it up in hopes to inspire others, break barriers and shift the narrative around Africa on the world’s biggest stage. I ultimately changed the course of Olympic history and learned about the power of having a vision and pushing the limits to break into unknown spaces.
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At the beginning of my journey, I asked myself two very simple questions. ‘Why Not Me? And Why Not Now?’ I knew that someone had to make history as the first African woman to compete in the sport of Skeleton at the Winter Olympics and I didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be me and it couldn’t be right then. Despite coming from Nigeria, a place with no ice or snow and having no prior knowledge of Skeleton, I had a vision to become the first African woman to compete in Olympic Skeleton.
We often hesitate to establish a vision for the things we want to do thinking that someone else will do it, while also waiting for a perfect time for it to be done. As best-selling author Mel Robbins notes in The 5 Second Rule, “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.” Through my unconventional path, I learned how to keep my vision alive by taking action instantly.
As I pushed to break barriers, I also learned the value of embracing chaos and how to keep moving forward. In the sport of Skeleton, you’re on the edge of danger and control at any given time. This taught me to expect and appreciate the chaos that comes with life.
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Before every run, I take down the track, I have a game plan. But when navigating down massive twists and turns going at speeds faster than cars travel on the freeway, things don’t always go as planned.
Through my experiences on the Skeleton track, I’ve learned to embrace life’s chaotic, unplanned moments and adapt as needed along the way. In the same way, as I was beginning the sport, I would painfully bump into the walls on my way down the track. These are called “hits”. Hits slow you down and are to be avoided as much as possible. But in Skeleton, just as in life, hits are inevitable.
On this journey, I learned to take the hits, no matter how big or small and keep pushing forward.
Finally, in Skeleton, flying down the track at crazy speeds, you have to make decisions in split seconds and the natural reaction is to panic. However, panicking is counterproductive as it causes the body to tense up and actually slows the sled down. Remaining cool, calm and collected is the best thing a Skeleton athlete can do.
With more time in the sport, I ultimately learned to trust my instincts, relax and enjoy the ride. Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all as this has become my personal ethos for achieving success in life.
By taking action instantly, embracing chaos and relentlessly pushing forward and relaxing and trusting our instincts, we can all apply these winning strategies for high performance in business and life. Who knew you could learn so much from the most terrifying Winter Olympics sport?
Masters Champion Tiger Woods: By The Numbers
The 83rd Masters will go down as one of the most memorable events in modern golf history.
Many fans point to Jack Nicklaus’ unexpected run to a sixth green jacket in 1986 at 46 years old as the ultimate Augusta moment, but Tiger Woods, who has been chasing Nicklaus’ legacy his entire career, might have just topped the Golden Bear.
Woods, decked in his trademark red, won the Masters by one stroke Sunday, holding off a stacked leaderboard of seasoned, elite golfers. It was a moment that many sports fans thought would never happen after a series of back surgeries pushed Woods to the brink of retirement.
Americans love to see their brightest stars fall, and few have fallen from a higher point than Woods, who was the most marketable athlete on the planet for a decade-plus. But the one thing Americans seem to love even more is the redemption story. Sports fans had waited 11 years for Woods to take another step toward Nicklaus’ hallowed record of 18 major titles.
Woods’ Tour Championship win last year was an indicator of what was to come, and he’s once again a marketing force. Woods and Phil Mickelson had a $9 million winner-take-all pay-per-view event in November, and Woods signed a multiyear content deal last fall with Discovery’s new over-the-top streaming service, GolfTV. He will do weekly golf instructional videos and is set to do a series of showdown-type events in Asia as part of the Discovery partnership.
Here are some of the numbers behind Woods and his history at Augusta.
4: Back surgeries for Woods.
5: Wins at Augusta for Woods, but the most recent was 14 years ago. It is the longest gap between Masters wins ever.
11: It has been just shy of 11 years since Woods won his last major tournament (2008 U.S. Open).
11: Number of times Woods has won the Player of the Year award.
12: Woods’ current rank in the World Golf Ranking.
16: Woods’ rank last year among the world’s highest-paid athletes. He earned $43.3 million.
20: Woods has made the cut in all 20 of his Masters appearances.
21: Woods was the youngest Masters champion ever when he won in 1997 at 21 years old by a record 12 strokes.
35: Number of players who had won a major title since Woods’ last Masters win in 2005. That span covered 55 tournaments.
43: Woods is the second-oldest Masters champion, with only Nicklaus having been older when he put on the green jacket.
81: Career PGA Tour wins for Woods, one shy of Sam Snead’s record.
281: Consecutive weeks Woods was ranked No. 1 in the world between 2005 and 2010.
$1.19 million: Payout for a bettor who put down $85,000 at 14/1 odds at William Hill’s Las Vegas sportsbook on Woods to win. “It’s great to see Tiger back. It’s a painful day for William Hill—our biggest golf loss ever—but a great day for golf,” says Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill U.S.’s director of trading.
$2.07 million: Woods’ prize money for the 2019 Masters win.
$20 million: Value of his yacht Privacy.
$20 million: Estimated value of Woods’ PGA Tour pension plan.
$800 million: Estimated net worth for Woods.
$1.5 billion: Cumulative career earnings for Woods, including prize money, endorsements, appearance fees and golf course design fees.
-Kurt Badenhausen;Forbes Staff
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