Iga Swiatek, a Polish, at age 19 won the 2020 French Open as a student, she combined her tennis career with finishing high school where her favourite subject was mathematics.
Swiatek, born on May 31, 2001, in Warsaw to a family of sporting personalities made history in the French Open by not only being the youngest to win the tournament but also the first person from Poland to lift the coveted trophy.
She made history for herself and her country by defeating Sofia Kenin, the Australian Open champion, who won in Melbourne in January 2020, before the pandemic, 6-4, 6-1, in the final to join Chris Evert, Evon Goulagong, Aranta Sanchez Vicario, Steffi Graff, and Monica Seles who have won the Roland Garros before they turned 20.
The Polish education system accommodates sports and education to run in pari-pasu, hence, it was easy for Swiatek to achieve such a feat in her sporting career.
Her interest in tennis was not made to suffer because of her high school academic work; unlike the Nigerian Aina James, who had to forfeit his participation in the world universities game some years ago because of his academics.
The Polish government, in 1947 liquidated the pre-war three-level school when the Ministry of Education ordered the implementation of a unified curriculum.
The primary goal of school education and sport in relation to the interwar years did not change in Poland. For the purposes of education, as a matter of course, the motor skills, physical fitness, immunity, structure, and attitude of the body were emphasised.
For the purposes of education, the need to create characteristic features, social and moral attitudes were stressed and the habit of physical activity, and for cognitive purposes, it was about learning by the student about the body and its development and understanding the importance of physical education and sport.
There is no doubt that there are many Iga Swiatek in Nigeria. However, the challenge here is the political will to set in motion the structures, policies, plans, and systems that drive the discovery, nurture, and encouragement of the avalanche of skills in the land.
Obviously, Swiatek did not become a world champion overnight. It took tutelage, encouragement, and having a system whereby she could possibly participate in sports activities, yet not miss out on her academic pursuit.
In a similar manner, Nigeria needs to put in place a structure that will help its young sports personnel 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 personnel could be engaged to drive the programme in various states and schools of the federation.
It is now crystal clear that sports and education can be properly tailored to accommodate each other, bearing in mind sports just as education is a key driver for socio-economic growth.
It is high time Nigeria education policymakers and implementers learn to create the needed friendly environment that will allow students to participate in sports competitions without missing out on their studies.
It is a proven fact 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 their practices and activities.
Sport is now more than ever before commanding global attention, besides; it is a viable means of foreign exchange growth. Its influence on world peace, economy, and the development of social relationships cannot be underestimated.
It is against this background that most developed countries, such as Japan, China, Poland, the USA, and France, among others, have come to appreciate the need to invest heavily in school sports.
To achieve effective education and sports system in the country, the government must equip the public schools with sporting equipment and well-trained sports trainers.
Thomas Omotayo, a public school teacher decried the fact that many state governments and many private school owners are paying lip service to the need of sports and extra-curricular activities in primary and secondary schools which should serve as a grooming ground for talent discovery and mentorship.
“It is a pity that our school system is lagging behind 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.
Besides, the inadequate sport funding by the various government, another issue hindering the sports development of Nigerian youth, especially, the female gender is the anti-sports position of many parents.
For instance, Oluwatobiloba Amusan a gold medal-winning Nigerian track and field athlete who specialises in the 100 metres hurdles and also competes as a sprinter had a discouraging parental disposition to her career.
Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School, Ijebu-Ode before proceeding to the University of Texas at El Paso in the United States Of America (USA).
The Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School in Ijebu Ode, told the story of her father stood against her sporting interest even while still in secondary school
“My mum was in full support of my athletics career but dad wanted me to focus on school. He limited my time at the stadium, but I used to sneak to the track thanks to Mum telling Dad I’d gone to church!” she stated.
Similarly, Asisat Oshoala, Super Falcons striker revealed that she faced a lot of challenges with her family before she started playing professionally.
“Growing up, I never had the intention to play football. I wanted to be a lawyer. But I changed my mind because I saw I was good at playing football.
“My parents did not want me to play football. I was always punished every time I got back home dirty, especially my dad because he wanted me to focus on school work.
“Sometimes, they would refuse to give me food as punishment whenever I went to play football. And I would have to run to my grandma’s place so they wouldn’t beat me.
However, it all changed when the opportunity to play for FC Robo came,” Oshoala said in her FIFA documentary.
This is unlike Iga Tomasz, the father of Swiatek, who took it upon himself to bring out the best in his child.
Swiatek’s victory at the 2020 Roland Garros (French Open) is already leaving its mark on the country’s sports circle. She is confident that her performance at the tournament will help to trigger the organisers of the WTA-rank tournament on Polish soil.
And that will mean a much more foreign exchange income for her home country.
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 in the international community.