Just days after Naomi Oyinloye broke a 20-year jinx to become the first Nigerian Certificated Umpire of the Badminton Confederation of Africa (BCA), another Nigerian has bagged the highest award in continental women badminton.
The BCA has bestowed on Mrs. Obiageli Solaja the 2019 African Women in Badminton Award.
She becomes the second recipient of the award, following that of Gretha Prinsloo of South Africa who received the 2018 award last year during the BCA Annual General Meeting in Nanning China.
The honour will be bestowed at the BCA Annual General Meeting 2020 at a date to be fixed later due to the current COVID-19 global pandemic.
Oby Solaja, a seven-time African Women’s champion and 10-time Nigeria national champion in her playing days is one of the pioneers of badminton at the Olympics.
Last November, when the IOC president, Thomas Bach visited Nigeria and met with the country’s Olympians in Abuja, he took time to congratulate Solaja as one of the players when badminton first featured as a medal event at the Olympics in 1996.
According to the BCA in a letter dated 18th April 2020, conveying the award to Solaja, the award is meant “to celebrate outstanding women in Africa who have contributed to the development of badminton in Africa by demonstrating irreproachable attitude and dedication to the sport in their respective fields.”
Michel T. Bau, President of the BCA and Meneoang Leshota, Chairperson, Women in Badminton, jointly signed the letter.
“Her enormous contributions to the success of the 2019 All Africa Senior Championships in April, 2019 held in Port Harcourt, Nigeria” was given as one of the reasons for her choice as an awardee.
“This along with her commitment to her assigned tasks and dedication to the overall success of the tournament from the initial planning stages of the championship to its completion.
“Her choice was also based on her career long achievements as a female badminton player in Nigeria and Africa when, as nee Oby Edoga, she won three gold medals in the Africa Senior Championships in 1996; Women’s Singles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles.
Her qualification for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, is a landmark. She became one of the first three female badminton players in Africa to participate in the badminton event at the Olympics.
The other two from Mauritius are Martine de Souza and Marie-Josephe Jean Pierre.
Since her retirement as a player, Solaja has been developing herself in sports marketing and administration leading her to attend the 2006 Sportel in Monaco, France as a non-exhibitor as well as attending the FIFA/CIES Diploma course in Sports Management at Cairo University, Egypt in 2011/2012.
Her foray continued after retirement where she continued to support the development of badminton in Nigeria as a coach, and later as an administrator.
She is a member of the Board of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN), where she is the zonal representative of the Southeast zone of the country.
She is also the Chairperson of the Events Planning and Organizing Sub-committee of the BFN.
Reacting to the award, the President of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria, Francis Orbih, expressed joy at the wonderful news coming at this very difficult time.
He said he was not surprised by the development. “Mrs. Obiageli Solaja, nee Edoga deserves and merits this great honour, which is the first time ever that any such honour is bestowed on a Nigerian player or administrator.
“It is a well deserved reward for hard work which will definitely spur her to put in more efforts towards the development of the game in Nigeria and Africa.
“This award will also inspire and motivate women in badminton to do more towards the development of the game knowing that their contribution will be recognised and rewarded in due course,” he said.
Orbih further stressed “the fact that her award is coming within the same month of the upgrade of Nigeria’s Naomi Oyinloye as a Certificated BCA Umpire means a lot to us.
“It epitomises progress and development, which is one of the major goals of this Board.