Samuel Ahmed Tukpah has been with the Liberia National Olympic Committee for 20 years. He is the current assistant secretary general, and Tokyo 2020 is his first-ever Olympic experience. This year he was named the Olympic Chef de Mission for Liberia. The chef de mission is responsible for the team while at the Olympics. It’s his job to make sure both athletes and delegates adhere to all Olympic requests and protocols.

During a celebratory luncheon at the Liberian embassy in Tokyo, Tukpah had sincere words for the Olympic team and delegates. “For [the 2020 Liberia Olympic Team] to keep thinking about those that will come after them, they are trying to lay the foundation for those that are coming after them,” Tukpah said. “If we have these kinds of young people begin to think for the next generation, we all need to follow them.”

Tukpah referred to several meetings where the team continuously advocated for other Liberian athletes and different sports. The inspiring display of selflessness made the future of athletics and sports in Liberia a constant topic of discussion, throughout the Games.

Prior to the races, we met Tukpah at the Olympic Village Mixed Zone to speak about his Tokyo 2020 experience, the 2020 Olympic Team and sports development in Liberia. The following interview has been edited for brevity.

How has the LNOC changed over the last 20 years and what are some challenges it’s faced?

Liberia had just transitioned from war. So during that reconstruction period it was kind of difficult [for] sports to pick up. I’m talking about sports in general, not just football. There were a lot of infrastructure that was damaged. The little we had was damaged and it had a very serious effect on the growth of sports up ’til now.

But there are individuals who are in the corridors, some individual athletes and certain sports, that are fighting hard and making things happen. If you notice, since the war, it is only one sport that Liberia has been bringing to the Olympics—athletics. And we want to say many thanks to the athletics federation, their partners, and the athletes in particular for their hard work.

What has inspired you most, during this event?

What has inspired me is the team of athletes that we brought. They are focused. They are more committed. Despite the huge counter-COVID measures, they are adhering to the rules that are laid down by the organizing committee and the government. And we are looking forward to the competition.

Another thing that inspired me is the teamwork from everybody, including yourself. We can see a little transition and the Liberian people now get to know exactly what’s happening at the Olympics.

How do you feel about the future of sports in Liberia and what sports, besides football, do you see excelling within the next five years?

I don’t want to attach a time frame onto it because sports development has to do with planning. And all of that also includes infrastructure. It includes building up technicians, talent identification [and] talent development. It’s a huge package. I can see other sports like basketball will come up. We have three-on-three, we have the full team basketball. We have tennis, taekwondo, judo is also trying.

If we focus on the individual-[based] sports, we could have a greater impact than with team sports because team sports are more expensive to handle. But again, our greatest impediment is infrastructure. We can work on technicians. There are opportunities at the LNOC to send coaches scholarships, technical courses, level one, level two, but if these coaches are trained and there’s no infrastructure that presents challenges.

Watch the full interview below to hear Tukpah’s thoughts on sports development and the next generation of Liberian athletes.