Exclusive: Feels good when your perspiration finally brings you to uhuru - Wellington Jighere, World Scrabble Champion
It is exactly four months and thirteen days since Wellington Jighere, then 32, became the first African to win the English-Language World Scrabble Championships.
The Nigerian defeated 19th ranked Lewis MacKay, 30, from Cambridge in the final by taking four straight games in the best-of-seven final round in Perth. He sealed the game with “felty” for 36 points, ending the last game with 449 to his opponent’s 432.
Although, it is now 134 days since the Championship in Perth, Australia, it is never too late to celebrate his feat and past achievements. In an exclusive chat with sportlineng, the World Scrabble Champion talked about his path to the top and issues regarding Scrabble development and promotion in Nigeria.
Sportlineng: Who is Wellington Jighere?
Wellington Jighere is 33- year old, a Nigerian who hails from Ughelli South LGA of Delta state, a graduate of Crop Science from the University of Benin and the reigning World Scrabble Champion.
Sportlineng: Who inspired you to pick up Scrabble?
My elder brother, Ovuoke Jighere.
Sportlineng: When did you start playing professionally?
Sportlineng: How did the journey to becoming the world champion start?
It started many years ago. But the point at which I realized that the world championship crown was actually attainable was when I finished 3rd in 2007, as a first-time competitor at the World Championship, Mumbai 2007.
Sportlineng: Any regrets so far?
None. Only lessons learnt.
Sportlineng: Your first international defeat how did you feel? did you feel like quitting? how did you get over the loss.
One thing that being a sportsman teaches you is how to take losses in good stride. It sure felt bad when I lost the final game at the 2007 World Championship to drop to 3rd place but I quickly got over it.
Sportlineng: What has been your drive?
Sustenance. I had depended on winnings from Scrabble to pay the bills for as long as I can remember.
Sportlineng: If not scrabble what sport would it have been?
Sportlineng: How did you prepared for the tourney in Perth that you won?
A lot of study went into preparing. I also did a lot of drills to enhance my resilience especially during such enervating circumstances as jetlag.
Sportlineng: How will you rate Scrabble in Nigeria
Sportlineng: What do you think we can do to further improve scrabble in Nigeria based on what you’ve seen abroad:
Basically, the level of sponsorship has to be improved upon. Champions have to be able to make a living from playing the game professionally.
Endorsements have to be forthcoming. Imagine that even as a World Champion, I’m yet to get any such endorsements. This is a situation that needs to be remedied. The take home needs to be commensurate to the efforts.
Sportlineng: Were you supported by the Nigeria Scrabble Federation on your way to becoming the world champion?
Yes. If it wasn’t for the NSF and our Club patron, Chief Ayeri Emami, none of these would have happened.
Sportlineng: To participate at the international level what do you have to do, can anyone participate?
No. Each country has fixed slots. The NSF organizes Qualifying series where you must prove your mettle.
Sportlineng: If you are the sports minister what will you improve?
I’d definitely encourage the inculcation of scrabble into the curricula of our schools and colleges. I’d ensure that Scrabble earns a permanent place amongst the compulsory sports in the National Sports Festival.
That a Sports Festival is forthcoming and Scrabble is not featuring is an aberration considering the role that scrabble has to play in building up the mental capacities of our youngsters out there.
Sportlineng: What is the impact of (NUGA, WAUG) in the person you have become:
I didn’t participate in any of those while in school.
Sportlineng: Can we know the tournaments you have you participated in?
I’ve participated in 3 World Championships (finishing 3rd, 11th and 1st respectively), four African Championships ( 7th, 1st, 1st, and 18th), five Godswill Akpabio International Scrabble Classics ( 2nd, 1st, 17th, 15th and 2nd respectively), two Kwete Scrabble Festival (1st and 1st) and a host of other championships.
1) World Scrabble Championship, Perth, Australia 2015 - 1st
2) World scrabble championship, Mumbai, India 2007 - 3rd
3) African scrabble championship, Nairobi, Kenya 2008 - 1st
4) African scrabble championship, Accra, Ghana 2010 - 1st
5) Godswill Akpabio Int’l scrabble classics, Uyo 2009 - 1st
6) Godswill Akpabio Int’l scrabble classics, Uyo 2014 - 2nd
7) Lagos State Int’l scrabble classics, Lagos 2014 - 2nd
8) Kwete National Scrabble Opens, 2009 - 1st
9) Kwete National Scrabble Opens, 2010 - 1st
10) Nigerian University Scrabble Championship, Abuja 2007 - 1st.
11) Warri National Scrabble Opens 2008 - 1st
12) Edo State Opens, Benin 2015 - 1st.
Sportlineng: Is there a project you are presently doing as the champions that you want the world to know about?
Yes. I just established the Wellington Foundation For Scrabble And Mind Development in Africa. Our mandate is to use Scrabble as a tool for mental capacity building. This is a laudable project which at full swing, will greatly influence the ability of our future generations to cope with the challenges that tomorrow brings.
Sportlineng: What do you do when you are not playing scrabble?
Playing chess and watching movies.
Do you watch Football? which of the clubs do you support?
I watch football but I don’t support any club in particular.
Sportlineng: Messi or Ronaldo and why?
They are both great players of their time.
Sportlineng: Mourinho or Pep and why?
Sportlineng: Give us a premium word to summarize what you have to do to be a champion:
I’d advise them to not aspire to be the next Wellington but rather strive to become a better version of themselves, putting in all their energies into the realization of their respective dreams and aspirations. I intend to be the person that will be able to guide them and keep them on track whether or not those aspirations are scrabble related.