An argument broke out recently concerning who the most-travelled sports journalist is in Nigeria.
No, it is not Chief Larry Izamoje, chairman of Brila Sports nor is it Mumuni Alao. He is arguably the country’s most capped FIFA World Cup journalist having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Brazil 2014 (and still counting anywhere).
That sporting personality is Kunle Oladimeji Solaja.
Born on 31 March 1960, Solaja is a product of University of Lagos (UNILAG) where he bagged both Bachelor of Science (1983) and Master of Science (1988) degrees in Mass Communication as well as a CIES/FIFA Diploma in Sports Management (2012) from Cairo University, Egypt.
With seven consecutive appearances at the global mundial – the senior FIFA World Cup, Solaja is not your regular run of the mill sports editor.
The media entrepreneur, a long standing member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and multiple award-winning journalist, has a career span of 30 years in the media. The career spreads across major newspapers in Nigeria and abroad. His editorial beats also cut across different segments –sports, business and marketing.
In sports, he has been described as Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist with up-to-date knowledge of new sporting trends, tricks or rules by global sports bodies.
This is how professional colleagues in the sports arena succinctly described the 58-year-old when questioned about his intimidating record in Nigeria’s sports journalism:
Tony Bekederemo – sportscaster, Brila FM
Certainly, he has attended no fewer than seven World Cups! That is true
Nnamdi Okosieme – Managing editor, Federalist Newspaper
It is possible. You know we call him the encyclopedia of sports in our circle. He is vastly experienced.
Sunny Nwabuike – official photojournalist, National Orientation Agency (NOA)
Yes ooo… As at the time I became acquainted with him, he was the group sports editor for Sun Newspaper. He is a guru when it comes to sport journalism in this country.
George Akpayen, sports journalist, The Predictor
I may not know every detail about him. But I know he has also attended several Africa Cup of Nations too
Appearances At Major Football Tourneys
His international exposure has seen the Nigeria’s ‘Encyclopaedia of Sports Journalism’ participated in the following tourney:
- FIFA Under-16 Tournament, Canada’ 87
- African Athletics Championship, Lagos ’89
- WAFU Cup final, Bouake 1989
- African Cup of Nations, Algiers ’90
- FIFA World Cup Italia ’90
- FIFA World Youth Championship, Portugal ’91
- 1st FIFA Championship for Women Football, China ’91
- African Cup of Nations, Senegal ’92
- Barcelona’92 Olympic Games
- Inaugural CAF Super Cup, Abidjan ’93
- FIFA World Cup, USA ’94
- African Youth Championship, Nigeria ’95
- First SuperSports Star of Africa Award, Nairobi, 1997.
- Final Draws for France ’98 World Cup in Marseilles
- FIFA World Cup France ’98.
- World Youth Championship, Nigeria ’99
- Chrysler Daimler Under-16 Indoor Championship, Stuttgart, Germany 2000.
- African Nations Cup, Ghana/Nigeria 2000
- FA Cup Final, Wembley, 2000
- Sydney Olympic Games, 2000
- African Footballer of the Year Award, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002
- FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea 2002.
- FIFA World Cup, Germany 2006
- Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
- FIFA Under 17 World Cup, Nigeria 2009
- FIFA World Cup, South Africa 2010.
- Africa Cup of Nations, South Africa 2013
- FIFA Confederation Cup, Brazil 2013
- FIFA World Cup, Brazil 2014
To date, the back-to-back winner of Nigeria’s Media Merit Award (2009 & 2010) remains the only journalist to have travelled this far.
Odyssey of A Sports Writer In Nigeria’s Sports Journalism
A well respected sports journalist in Africa, Solaja was one of the top six journalists across the continent invited into the Panel of Judges to pick the SuperSport Star of Africa in Nairobi Kenya in 1998.
His last place of engagement is The Sun Publishing Limited where he was the General Manager, Special Publications.
Prior to that, the 58-year-old sports guru had worked at editor’s level at prominent Nigerian publications – National Concord (1989 to 1996), The Guardian (1997 to 2002, 2004-2005) and was also the pioneer editor of South Africa-based publication, Kick Off magazine in Nigeria in 2002. He also worked as Senior Staff Writer of the African Concord Magazine from 1986 to 1989 after starting his active career in Journalism as a member of the NYSC in 1983/1984 service year at the Imo State Newspapers, publishers of Nigerian Statesman in 1983 after which he joined the now defunct Newbreed magazine in Lagos on March 1, 1995.
In 1997, he was the associate editor of Midweek Concord, a publication under the stable of the now defunct Concord Press of Nigeria. The publication was 100% a financial/business newspaper. He also assisted the Media Monitoring Services Nigeria Limited to kick-start Markomm Digest – a marketing communication specialised magazine. With his efforts as consultant to the publication, the editor in the first year of the magazine won the prestigious Nigeria Media Merit Award in Brand and Marketing in 2010.
Kunle is one the longest serving editors in the country and undoubtedly, the most travelled. He is a back-to-back winner of the Nigerian Media Merit Award in in 2009 and 2010 and had also authored two landmark books in sports, “Super Eagles – Through The Ages” and “Going for Goals: Nigerian Football’s Hidden Stories.” He is one of the writers of the 509-page Nigeria’s Golden Book, a publication of The Sun Publishing Limited and wrote a chapter in “A Global Trend in Media Training”, edited by Tayo Popoola of the University of Lagos.
He is well connected in most Nigerian media organisations on account of his being a long standing member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and also having worked in prominent newspapers and as a frequent guests in many television and radio stations’ programmes.
He is also IT compliance and very active in the social media and had also handled the website of the organising committee for the 2003 All Africa Games (COJA). He was one of the few citizens that served as members of the Nigeria Centenary Planning Committee in 2013.
He is presently the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Village Square, a 24-hour online sports blog, which since establishment in February 2017 has been a responsive and highly engaging online sports newspaper that is attracting visitors, not just in Nigeria, but globally.
A patriot of sort, the journalist has also been called up for national assignments on several occasions. These include:
- Member, Technical Study Group, Nigeria Football Federation (2018)
- Member, Nigeria Centenary Planning Committee (2013)
- Member, Media Committee, Nigeria Football Federation, (2012 -2014)
- Member, Editorial Board, COJA 8th All Africa Games.
- Project Manager (Website)/Webmaster, COJA 8th All Africa Games.
- Assistant General Manager, Special Projects, COJA 8th All Africa Games.
- Member, Accreditation Committee, World Youth Championship, Nigeria ’99.
- Member, Venue/Facilities Committee, African Youth Championship, Nigeria ’95.
Among his numerous laurels and awards are:
- 2010 winner of Nigeria Media Merit Award in Sports Writing
- 2009 winner of Nigeria Media Merit Award in Sports Writing
- 2007 Sports Writers’ Association (SWAN) Award for Best Columnist
- 2005 Award for the Best Coverage of Coca-Cola FA Cup
- 2004 Award for the most outstanding report on the Coca-Cola FA Cup
- 1999 Award for the Best Coverage of the Coca-Cola FA Cup.
- 1996 Nigeria Media Merit Award Certificate of Commendation in sports reporting
- 1990 Lagos NUJ Best Reporter Award