A gold medallist at the just concluded 20th Sports Festival, Daniel Emeka has revealed that before the 2020 National Sports Festival in Benin City, he was representing Team Ondo in Kick-boxing but he eventually teamed up with big spenders, Team Delta because of the financial gains. In this interview with Trust Sports, Emeka called on the government to show more interest and commitment to the game of kick-boxing.
When did you start kick-boxing?
I started training in 2014 but stopped because of lack of support. In 2015, I travelled to Dubai. A Thai coach met me and he began to train me. I had my first competition in Dubai and I won and that really inspired me to go further. Ever since then, I have enjoyed the game. It may be considered a high risk sport but life itself is about risk. I am enjoying myself in kick-boxing.
When you started, you must have gone through some challenges. Can you tell us some of such challenges?
The journey is never easy as I faced some financial challenges. Sometimes, I would train, get home and there would be nothing to eat. I would end up drinking garri. However, I kept pushing and I believe in myself and right now, I am relatively stable with some good financial backing. I am even training someone. I can say it is good to persevere.
You are representing Delta. Are you from the state or elsewhere?
Yes I am representing Delta but I am from Imo and I grew up in Ondo.
Why are you representing Delta instead of Imo or Ondo?
I represented Nigeria in 2019 in the World Youth Championship in Turkey and when I got back, a lot of states demanded to have me. I considered the state that would pay me better and it was my choice to represent Delta. I won a gold medal for Ondo State because my parents lived. I have represented them in several competitions but never got anything from the state. I have won gold in every fight and remained undefeated in the light weight category. I am undefeated in 81 and 85 weight categories. I fight two light categories.
What would you say has kept you at the top for this long?
Actually, it is God because without Him, nothing is possible. When there is no competition, I train. I have a gym and a professional gym instructor. When I instruct people, I train myself. I have sponsored myself to Ghana, Egypt just to train, not fight. I invest heavily in myself.
In this clime, we know how parents or family try to influence one’s choice of career. Did you receive any sort of support from your parents?
Unfortunately, my family wasn’t in support of me going into kickboxing. I have been a hustler because I lost my mum when I was six years. My dad later took us to the village and we struggled to survive. I sponsored myself to school and didn’t depend on any one. Now, I am making it in this sport and I get calls from people I don’t know. At a point, I had to change my mobile phone number. I was exposed when I held a cheque of N4m when I won a competition. If it was low keyed, nobody would have known. Despite all that I passed through, I try as much as possible to help my family.
Let’s talk about the Olympics. How are you preparing for the Olympics?
I am prepared for the Olympics but I must first of all go through the African qualifiers. I still have international tournaments to attend where I am hoping to garner enough points to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
As you said, you have been to different countries. How will you compare kick-boxing in Nigeria with the countries you have visited?
Things are very different in the countries I have been to. All the facilities in these countries are top notch. We don’t have such in Nigeria. For example, in Nigeria, we have a cage to fight but not to train. Everything in the foreign countries is organised when compared to what we have in Nigeria. Here most of the things are done haphazardly. There is no proper planning.
How are you combining education with active sports?
It has not been easy but having understood the fact that there is life after sports, I have gone back to school. I am currently pursuing my National Certificate of Education at the Osun College of Education. I am now in my 200 level. Like I said, combining studies with training has not been easy but I am juggling the two. My plan is to go beyond NCE even if that will be after I must have retired.
As a young athlete, what appeal or advice do you have for the government in the area of sports development?
We need more funding and kick-boxing equipment to help us excel in international championships. We don’t often participate in foreign tournaments because of financial challenges. To make matters worse, the government hardly assists us in securing visas even when we are scheduled to represent the country. Furthermore, the government should build standard kickboxing academies which should be affordable. With government support and show of commitment, we would be able to attend more international competitions. By so doing, we would improve and at the same time know our rating in the world. Training without fighting opponents won’t improve our game. We need to fight to improve on our skills and techniques.