Opinion: The age of deception

by Desmond Ovbiagele

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What made him do it? Why should one so young, with the world at his feet, display the wariness of a Hollywood actress about his age? Is it normal?

In line with the fantasies I still harbour that the next generation of Usain Bolts will be unearthed from this country, I recently got involved with a group of upcoming local athletic talent which trains every weekend. Last Saturday I impulsively decided to conduct a series of impromptu interviews amongst the youths —primarily to record their hopes and aspirations for posterity, but also to imbue in them a sense of importance and purpose.

After a tentative start, my first interviewee (a gazelle-like 100m/200m hopeful) rallied to express herself with eloquence, poise and refreshing ambition. Fantastic.

On to the next — a lithe long jumper whose bends and stretches in the earlier conditioning routine had looked truly impressive. A real prospect, I thought. So with the lens of my camcorder trained on her intrigued face, I extracted her name and state of origin, then proceeded:

“How old are you?”

For a brief moment, she regarded me with a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye which was slightly discomforting to see, then replied:“16.”

The problem was —she didn’t look 16. And unbeknownst to her, my earlier curiosity as to her talents had prompted me to make inquiries from her coach who had divulged a different age. So I lowered the camera and mustered a no-nonsense expression to jolt her out of her insincerity.

“Look —I don’t want to hear your football age …” (a deliberate reference to the sports administrative maladies of times past which I knew she would recognize). “What’s your real age?”

Her gaze shifted apprehensively from my stern features to the recording camera lens I had raised again, knowing fully well that her response would be indisputable proof that could be used against her in the future. Finally:

“18.”

I nodded approvingly, delivered a brief admonition for her to continue in the path of truth age-wise, then concluded the interview. But after she left, I reflected on the somewhat pitiable look in her eyes just before she declared her real age. It was akin to someone whose most prized possession was being wrenched forcibly out of her hands against her will.

I felt sorry for her. Because I understood that the ‘professional age’ she ventured initially was her meal ticket into age-restricted local competitions she would normally not be eligible for; platforms for her to showcase her talent and hopefully get selected to represent the country at international events where who knew which further doors could open?

But the problem with such success is that it is achieved at the expense of age-compliant fellow competitors whose youthful hopes for glory are dashed by the callous deceit of their older ‘peers’. And justice delayed is not justice denied. You reap what you sow. So a few years down the line when those disappointed youths have grown into their bodies and are at the physical peak of their powers with their stars in the ascendancy, the cheats who reigned over them at the juniors are already in various stages of performance decline.

I honestly didn’t see why this talented athlete should construct her fledgling career on such a treacherous foundation, so I quelled a compassionate impulse to delete the recording and moved on with some relief to my last interviewee — the youngest member of the group by several years whose admirably solemn dedication to his training drills made some of his more frivolous older colleagues appear immature in comparison.

Upon request he introduced himself soberly to the camera, and I followed up with the routine age inquiry.

“Nine… I mean, ten years old.”

Okaaay. Perhaps an excusable verbal stutter after an intensive training session. But the young lad’s work ethic had always impressed me and I wanted him to have a clean interview.

“Sorry … let’s take that again. How old are you?”

“Eleven years old.”

Aha! I was momentarily speechless. Marvelling at how this straight-faced and dedicated young lad could go from 9 to 11 years old in the space of 15 seconds. Genuinely forgetting his actual age would naturally be of some concern in one so young. But of even greater concern would be a deliberate attempt to provide a misleading response to what (at his age) should be a relatively simple question.

What made him do it? Why should one so young, with the world at his feet, display the wariness of a Hollywood actress about his age? Is it normal?

Obviously not. Clearly a corruptive influence, somewhere, had drilled into his vulnerable young mind that the formula for success in his chosen pursuit also involved mathematical agility in responding to any inquiries about his years. Not wanting to embarrass the otherwise earnest fellow, I released him shortly after.

My mood was not improved by my sudden recollection of a conversation the previous day with a professional associate whose biography I was trying to compile.

“Actually, I was born in 1988, but I use 1990.”

“I use 1990.” This was delivered without a trace of remorse or shame. He might as well have been referring to the brand of engine oil he patronizes for car servicing.

Haba! What on earth is going on with the next generation? Are these really the future leaders of the country into whose hands we will necessarily entrust our wellbeing?

Where is the integrity? Have they learnt nothing from the past?

Unfortunately, it seems they have. And like the farmer in the biblical parable, it appears we were all asleep when the enemy was busy sowing weeds furiously in our field of wheat.

If we are to save our harvest, clearly there is much work to be done.

Or else, we better get used to the taste of boiled weeds.

 

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Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

 

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One comment

  1. Seems integrity can be sold for bread or a pot of soup

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