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AJOMALE-McWORD: Not a smooth journey, but I’ve done well running on passion

Sòókò Deji Adekunle Ajomale-McWord, a sport, tourism and diplomacy thoughts leader and founder of Sport, Tourism and Diplomacy Forum, spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on his various commitments and the arduous journey to hugging the headlines.

Background

Sòókò Deji Adekunle Ajomale-McWord who is of the stock of two of the four ruling houses in the source of the Yoruba race, Ile-Ife in Osun State, and turns 40 this year, could be described as a young Turk, who dared to dream and trod the path that many mortals and even angels, literarily, feared and has come out unscathed. Today, Ajomale-McWord has become an established name and reference point in the fields that he has explored over the last 10 years. He describes himself as a sport, tourism and diplomacy thoughts leader, with years of experience across the three subjects. He is the Founder of Sport, Tourism and Diplomacy Forum, a platform that advances United Nations Sustainable De- velopment Goals (SDGs), using sport and tourism as tools for human and society development.

Young Ajomale-McWord, is perhaps, arguably, one of the biggest voices in sports tourism on the continent of Africa. On a national level, he was one of the Nigerians, under the auspices of the Nige- ria Economic Summit Group (NESG) that produced the recommendations that was signed into Nigeria Sport Industry Policy. While on the continental front, he serves as Sports Tourism Commissioner to African Tourism Board (ATB) and on the global level, he founded World Sports Tourism Day and hosts sports tourism thought leaders from around the globe in a purposeful conversation. He also serves as the Secretary General of World Sports Tourism Council.

He stages among others Visa Policy Africa Summit, International Diplomacy Stableford Golf Tournament and The Trade Relations Cup. Ajomale-McWord is also a published author of a number of books. In 2015, he was commissioned by MTN Nigeria to curate the Atlas of Nigerian Golf Courses.

Early days

The Lagosian, who is very proud of his Yoruba race; The Source heritage, speaks of his early days as he says; ‘‘I was born in Lagos and spent a part of my childhood in Surulere where I attended Adisa Bash- ua Primary School in Lawanson, Surulere and Adaranijo Primary School at Pedro, before I was made to go and continue my primary education in Highland Nursery and Primary School in Oke-Igbo, Ondo State, while staying with my paternal grandmother.

God rest her beautiful soul. ‘‘Upon completion of my primary ed- ucation, I was sent to Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta. I was on Mapoly Campus for about two years, I self-developed from there; a couple of courses here and there and some mentoring here and there.’’

Developing the flair for writing

The tool that opened the world of pos- sibilities to Ajomale-McWord, is writing, which he developed flair for at a very ten- der age. According to him, ‘‘Writing is a gift from God, but I must give gratitude to my industry fathers: Akin Adeoya and Muyiwa Akintunde; who gave me room to learn real world journalism and PR.

I used to resume at Akin Adeoya’s Market- ingMix/M2 Magazine, as though I was an employed staff. ‘‘It was during this period that I prac- ticed a little of marketing communications in writing and consultancy.’’

Growing up wasn’t much of fun

He speaks about his childhood, as he puts it mildly, ‘‘growing up wasn’t much of fun. I had my share of battles of life, but I’m grateful for how my life turned out. I am grateful to God and to myself for having the audacity to grind and grow like a rose, through the eye of crack on the concrete floor.’’

Influenced by my father

He discloses that his father was the one who influenced him most, but not without explaining the undercurrent that shaped father and son relationship, ⁠’’not necessar- ily in the most positive way, though. After I had left his house in my late teenage years, he saw me on the street one day and asked what I was doing with my life? “Writing”, I replied him. And he said, ‘it’s those lazy people’s jobs that always interest you.

Can’t you see Tope that’s younger than you? He helps Oganla to mold building blocks and he gets paid.’ ‘‘You must understand that with hind- sight, I do not blame him. You know what they say about the worse harm coming from the best intentions.

The realities and proba- bly the exposure of his generation and that of those that were before him informed such belief that writing is a lazy people’s job and I do not mean that in an insultive way. ‘‘Today, though he’s not one that’s great at expressing love in words; I know he’s proud of me and I love him regardless of all that happened in the past.’’

Writing has brought the world under my feet

In retrospective, Ajomale-McWord is in glory land and he is glad that the choice he made early in life, though derided by his father and others then, had paid off hand- somely for him and exposed him to the best the world has to offer. ‘‘Writing has opened more doors for me than anything else. The first time I got the opportunity to work closely with a multina- tional, it was through writing. I’m referring to a compilation of golf courses that I curat- ed for MTN Nigeria in 2015,’’ he recounts. Adding, ‘‘I publish Afri Diplomat mag- azine that has entered more places under the sun, than I have physically been to.’’

Introduction to the world of sport-Golf

Ajomale-McWord passion for sport, especially golf, is uncanny and you could say a marriage made from heaven as since the first day he encountered a golf course he has never turned back and had progressed to become sport and golf player and promoter par excellence. He picks up the narrative, ‘‘around 2009 or thereabout, my friends went to visit a friend of theirs in Lafarge Estate and they returned home telling beautiful tales of the estate, especially the golf course it houses.

‘‘I begged them to allow me to tag along the next time they were going there. They did. It was love at first sight. ‘‘I returned to the estate with a photog- rapher friend, who took pictures of me on the golf course. ‘‘After a while, I started writing about the game of golf. In 2014, I launched my first book on golf with a golf kitty (tournament) and I became a two-time author, having au- thored and published ‘How Jesus Became The World’s Bestselling Brand’ in 2011.

‘‘The irony of it is that none of those friends who took me to Lafarge Estate in Arigbajo, Ogun State, where my journey in golf started, plays golf till date. I guess their calling was to get me to golf and walk away. ‘‘From the golf course tucked away in an estate in Arigbajo, I rose to be the youngest person in the business of organizing golf tournaments. I have hosted golf tourna- ments in Ikoyi Club 1938, Ikeja Golf Club and IBB International Golf and Country Club in Abuja.’’

Golf opened my eyes to the possibilities in sports tourism

His romance with the game of golf, he says is what inspired his exploration of sports tourism, which today has become so engaging for him, both as business and calling. ‘‘As I went deeper into the game, I saw golfers’ knack for travel. I looked at other sports and the volume of travel that they command,’’ he recalls.

Further, ‘‘I also looked around Nigeria and saw the sparseness of the attention it gets. I saw how both stakeholders and ad- ministrators walk past the topic of sports tourism,’’ he recounts of him deciding to pitch tent with sports tourism promotion.

‘‘I did my research and I realised that there’s a huge knowledge gap among even some administrators. I also saw the unwill- ingness on the part of administrators and stakeholders of both sports and tourism landscapes to work together. And I con- cluded that this is an endeavor worth my youthful energy. ‘‘You know what they say about the need to stay where there’s a problem and proffer solutions to it, if you want to be relevant in life.’’

Challenges encountered

‘‘Oh, it’s been pretty challenging, first and foremost; though it happens across Nigeria every week, sports tourism is still an alien topic in this country. You’d be sur- prised by the caliber of people who ask me on a regular what sports tourism is all about.

‘‘And for the life of me, I do not un- derstand why these two landscapes hate collaborating. Meanwhile, natural is their confluence. ‘‘If you want your existence to get ig- nored fast, try and get a tourism board/ ministry and sports commission/ministry to collaborate with ‘genuineness of pur- pose’. ‘‘I brokered the deal between Kenya Air- ways and Lagos City Marathon. And did all I could to get Lagos Tourism onboard. It all ended in futility.

‘‘It is as clear as daylight that no travel exhibition/expo, concert, conference has been able to deliver 20% of the footfall of non-Lagos residents that the marathon de- livers to Lagos, since it debuted some nine years ago. Let no one deceive you with doc- tored figures. Nine years on, Lagos tourism is still missing at Lagos City Marathon.’’

Gaining traction from 2019

Despite these challenges, which are still there, he never gave up knocking on doors. Fortunately, he recalls that he started gain- ing traction and some form of recognition in his quest around 2019. This is as he says, ‘‘I’d say from 2019. It was the year I carried loads many times more than my weight and size could cope with. International Diplomacy Stableford Golf Tournament debuted in Ikoyi Club 1938, in 2019.

‘‘I remember that it was also the year Hilton Hotels and Resorts clocked 100 years and the two Hilton Hotels in Nige- ria – Legend Lagos Airport Hotel Curio Collection by Hilton and Transcorp Hilton Abuja chose my tournament to celebrate the centenary anniversary of the brand.

‘‘It was also the year KLM clocked 100 years. AirFrance/KLM was part of the sponsors. It was a moment of pride for me to have these global brands identifying with an event making its debut. He further reminiscences, ‘‘2019 was also the year African Sports Tourism Week (now Sport, Tourism and Diplomacy Forum) stepped out of the shores of its country of birth. It was hosted in Ghana.

‘‘I remember getting the invitation of the Minister of Sport to come for a meeting, to discuss the upcoming event. I remember the Minister of Tourism acknowledging our invitation. I remember getting the attention of the South African Minister of Sports over the event. 2019 pointed me in the direction of all that I am known for today; sport, tourism and diplomacy.’’ Ajomale McWord concludes by saying, ‘‘The journey hasn’t been all smooth, but I have done well running on the brand of Jet A1 called passion.’’

Sports tourism exist in Nigeria

Given all the years that he has devoted to the pursuit of his audacious dream of forg- ing a romance between sports and tourism in Nigeria, he is glad to confirm that the sound of marriage is in the air even though it may not be to that consummate level yet. ‘‘To say that there’s no sports tourism in Nigeria will be tantamount to speaking gibberish, but the only recent evolution of sports tourism in Nigeria; asides the mar- riage of sports and tourism that I keep con- ducting here and there; can be credited to what the likes of Bukola Olopade has been doing with his collection of road races.

‘‘I must acknowledge the efforts of the likes of Tayo Popoola through Lagos Wom- en Run. As you probably know, road races are major footfall bringers that I always recommend for every destination to own. ‘‘Access Bank Lagos City Marathon, for an example, has directed more eyeballs in the direction of Lagos. Handlers of the des- tination only need to start being intentional about the conversion of these eyeballs into visits. ‘‘What I’d like Nigeria to become, how- ever, is a sport holiday destination. The numbers in terms of footfalls, cost effec- tiveness and socio-economic impact will amaze you, if the right investments and management are put in place.’’

Sports tourism is not yet at the level it should be Regrettably, he laments, saying, ‘‘I’d be honest with you, sports tourism isn’t yet where it ought to be. Intentionality is still missing. For a football crazy population like ours, Nigeria Football League should be having a minimum of N2billion econom- ic impact on Nigeria every week, but the factors plaguing every sector of tourism business in Nigeria aren’t sparing sports tourism.

‘‘Sports tourism is doing well in a few African countries that are intentional put- ting their money where their mouth is, with genuineness of purpose. South Africa has been leading the pack. Rwanda isn’t joking at all. Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Tunisia are pulling their weights. By and large, there are barely 10 out of the 54 African Union member states that are doing well at sports tourism.’’

Greatest achievement

‘‘My greatest achievement having global brands identity with me in the course of building a life and legacy is a major achieve- ment and it fuels me for the glorious future ahead of me. “I am grateful to God and everyone who have been part of the journey. I am now somewhere where I am being given my flowers. Sport, Tourism & Diplomacy Forum 2023 attracted partnership and par- ticipation from global brands like Laliga, United Nations International Organization for Migration.

United Nations High Com- mission for Refugees was in attendance”. “World Sports Tourism Day conversa- tion which I host has attracted participation from Maryland Sports Commission, Sports Tourism Canada, Confederation for Afri- can Football, Laliga, and World Athletics among others.”

“Last year, organisers of the biggest avi- ation gathering in Africa-Aviation Africa Summit-partnered Diplomacy Publishing and Events’ Aviation Cup Africa Golf Tour- nament. It felt surreal having our event list- ed among the activities of a summit that commanded the attendance of the avia- tion globe. Aviation Cup Africa Golf Tour n a m e n t played host to the num- ber one a i r c r a f t s manufac – turer in the world-Boe- ing.” Fulfillment ‘‘I gener- ously count my bless- ings. I label and archive them. Ful- fillment is settling in and I con- tinue striv- ing towards deepening it.’’

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