Access Bank, boosting Nigeria’s image through sports

By Ifeanyi Eduzor

The just concluded 8th Access Bank Lagos City Marathon came to a successful end a fortnight ago with a lot of memorable events to remember.
As usual, the full marathon ( 42km) attracted thousands of runners from all over the world; including hundreds of elite runners who came to be part of the best and highest paid marathon in Africa.
Apart from the full marathon, there was also 10km race and executive race aimed at keeping people healthy and burning out fats and calories.
Although, the race as has been the tradition in the last seven years were won by East Africans notably; Kenyans and Ethiopians who went home with the huge prize money available but the exposure it gave to Nigerian local runners can’t be quantified.
As the race lasted, it was fun all the way starting from the take off point at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos to Eko Atlantic, the finish point, many Nigerians lined up the route to cheer the runners.
To add further fun to the race, many artists led by popular Afro Juju Musician Shina Peters were on ground to entertain the athletes and fans which was made possible by Access Bank.
However some people might be tempted to ask why organising a race when Nigerians cannot cart away the $50,000 first prize money at stake but when one considers the huge tourism potential of the race and exposure it gives our athletes to build up confidence while contesting with some of the best marathoners in the World as well as help them improve on their time, the efforts of the sponsors will be appreciated.
The race which was beamed life to the outside world showcased the megacity status of Lagos State as well as served as image building for the country with many of the foreign athletes who were visiting the country for the first time marvelling at the hospitality of Nigerians and the peace in the country, promising to be around next year for the 9th edition.
Some of them have this to say about the race and the country
“We’re particularly happy to be part of this race put together by Access Bank. The organisation is second to none and the hospitality of Nigerians excellent.
“Before we read negative stories about Nigeria but coming here, we discovered that the people are friendly, peaceful, hospitable and accommodating and the environment and food very good and we cannot wait to be part of the next edition”, they chorused.
It’s on record that since Access Bank took the initiative of sponsoring this marathon, it has not looked back as it has taken the race from bronze label to silver label up to the present gold label and is now targeting to achieve the Platinum label for the longest running marathon in the country.
Even in the year 2020 when the world faced a lockdown and sporting activities suspended because of Covid-19 Pandemic, the bank still went ahead to organise the 2021 edition. This singular act which came when other corporate sponsors where suspending their sponsorship deals endured Access Bank to many sports men and women who now see it as the most friendly bank in the country.
Not minding that the bank which is one of the fifth largest and strongest banks in the country, is not the first corporate organisation to organize marathon in the country but it’s consistency in holding the event for eight years even with the economic meltdown and depreciation of the naira which the country is facing presently must be applauded. Also to be applauded is the decision of the bank to organise a full marathon from inception till now when previous sponsors where organising half marathons which did not draw the attention of world athletics road races.
However it must be noted that the history of Access Bank/ Lagos City Marathon will not be complete without giving kudos to the Group Managing Director of the Bank, Herbert Wigwe who bought the idea of putting the banks money in the event when other similar organisations shy away from investing in sports or youth development.
As a sportsman per excellence who still has youth on his side, he decided to encourage Nigerian long distance runners who are finding it difficult to get sponsors to participate in races all over the world and to give home athletes a sense of belonging, as has been the practice since inception, different cash prizes ranging from 3 million naira to N50,000 was set aside for the first ten Nigerians to reach the finish line in both the male and female categories which is unprecedented in the history of marathon races in the country.
Assessing the race, Wigwe has this to say ” This is the first landmark race for us to be held since the formal expansion of Access Bank into a Holding company. In 2016 when we joined forces with Lagos State Government and Nilayo Sports to host the first edition of the race, we had a good vision to position the race as a model and point of reference for the global athletics community.
” This vision was coupled with the ideas of elevating the local quality of health by encouraging Nigerians to become more active. Looking back, we can confidently say that we’ve gone beyond what we thought was possible in less than a decade and I’m proud to say that we are the fastest growing road race in the world and are well in our way of achieving the platinum label.
Speaking on the economic impact of the race, Wigwe explained that statistics has shown that marathon has a very big economic impact on the host community and Access Bank Lagos City Marathon was not an exception.
“Indeed statistics prove that marathon have a tremendous economic impact on the host community and the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon is no exception.
” Leveraging the platform of the marathon, we’ve been able to elevate the economic outlook of Lagos State as evidence by the year-on year increase in the number of sponsorship requests, the growing number of sports tourists who visit the state as part of the marathon experience and by extension positively impacting the bottom line of several businesses across the hospitality, transportation and FMCG industries.
“In addition , we’ve created jobs and opportunities for thousands of individuals who served as volunteers during the marathon ‘, he said.
Bearing the above statement in mind, there is no doubt that Access Bank has not only set the pace in marathon races in Nigeria but the entire African continent and with the number of elite athletes showing interest to be part of the race every year coupled with the hitch free organisation of the race, achieving the platinum label will not take time to materialize.
As the world look forward to the 9th edition next year, there is the need for other corporate organisations to emulate Access Bank and invest in youth development through sports as is done in other climes.

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