By PAUL OJENAGBON
BUT for the consolatory bronze medal the U-23 Soccer team achieved, the country’s huge contingent to the 2016 Rio Olympics would have come back completely empty-handed just as it did four years ago at the London Olympics. Kudos to the hard –fighting soccer team which stood stoutly against all odds. But I refuse to celebrate the bronze medal as it would amount to celebrating mediocrity. In essence, the country’s dismal performance in several Olympics games says much about the state of affairs in our country. Nigeria is becoming like a place where nothing works! It is putting it very mildly what has become the perennial shame of a nation in the full glare of the entire world.
By several yardsticks and except in a few cases, performances at the Olympics have become an index of assessment of how developed a country is or how well organized that nation is within the global community. It is therefore no surprise that the first ten nations on the medals log are also probably the most developed ten nations in the world with the exception of a few others that are missing from the table’s premier zone. Even when a nation is not so well developed but has performed brilliantly in the Olympics, it can be easily deduced that such nations know how to plan and they can also organize themselves very well and are thus competitive against the rest of the world. Countries such as Jamaica and Kenya would probably belong in this latter category. To start with, it is not compulsory that a country must attend every Olympics that comes every four years especially when it’s not ready. But if a country decides it must attend, it must learn to be very competitive through thorough preparations. Mere attendance is just not enough!
Looking critically at the dismal performances of Nigeria at several Olympics over the years, one can easily pinpoint the major cause to the absence of an enabling environment. It certainly cannot be racial because if we look at the United States Team (that emerged overall winners), a very high percentage of their athletes are Black Americans and are doing very well and performing wonderfully for their country. What is more, some Nigerian-born athletes who used to participate in the Olympics in the country’s colours but who out of frustration, dumped their country and took up the nationalities of other countries, are known to be doing much better for their adopted countries than they were doing for their country of birth. In fact, some of them would never have won any Olympic medal in their lifetime or careers spanning decades if they had not switched nationality allegiance. It is therefore not the fault of the ill prepared athletes that they always perform woefully.
The government and the sports administrators are to blame. The country has spawned several incompetent sports ministers. The loud message to the president is that he should cease to fill ministerial slots with politicians who will achieve nothing at the end of the day but rather with technocrats who can deliver. We don’t even have a sports policy. Unfortunately, the sports sector would have been one area the government can galvanize to create massive employment opportunities because the key players are youth and persons of young age who have the drive and energy to achieve things for themselves, their families and the country at large. A successful sports man or woman can attract foreign exchange for the country through international engagements.
It is a big shame that a country of an estimated 200 million people has only been able to garner 3 Gold medals (one by default at that!) on the permanent Olympics Medals Table. What do the Jamaicans have that we don’t have, or the Kenyans that we don’t have more of or even the Michael Phelps(s) of thisworld we cannot nurture among the impressionable Ijaw youth from tender age? There are many Usain Bolts in Nigeria waiting to be discovered but they will never be discovered because parochialism and similar drawbacks will not give them the needed chance. They only feather their own nests, except that under the present government with its anti-corruption posture, they have much less to share now as ill-gotten loot!! A prominent sports administrator in the country who is a friend and former classmate to a cousin of mine confided in him that he amassed $1m from the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States. Yet, what is happening in the sports sector is a metaphor for what is happening or has been happening in every other sphere of our national life. It is the same reason why the country continues to wallow in darkness!!
Being the “giant” of Africa should not just be by word of mouth. Nigeria must show that it can indeed lead Africa in every respect, including sports. This is because great performance in every human endeavor will showcase the country in very positive light. Think of how much pride the like of Usain Bolt have brought to their countries. A tourism industry can foster because many people from across the world would want to visit the country of this great Olympian who has won “triple-triple”, indicative of the nine gold medals he won in three different Olympics. Some of the countries that won far more medals than Nigeria at the last Olympics are not even up to the size of the least populated state in our country.
As Tokyo 2020 beckons, everyone hopes that the stakeholders will do the needful and plan for success because it does not come by accident, it has to be earned. A sports policy must be put in place to state a collective national vision and how the country would achieve it. Very importantly, the system must be rejigged with the old, corrupt and stale administrators giving way quickly to young, vibrant, focused, enterprising and brilliant administrators in all the sports federations to move the country forward.
Ojenagbon writes via [email protected]