A cursory look at Nigeria’s participation at the recently concluded 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro Brazil will reveal deep cleavages and schism in our entire planning process for sporting events and you might say our entire planning apparatchik. We went with a contingent of over 80 athletes, competing in 10 events
It looked like a fiasco ab initio, from the non-release of the funds for training, to lack of kit provision, non-payment of allowances and the discordant tunes from the Minister of Sports, the Nigerian Olympic Committee Chairman (NOC) as well as the Chef de Mission. Everyone in the sporting fraternity had been shouting themselves hoarse with regards to our preparations and how were going to disgrace ourselves by only making the numbers at the global fiesta. . What happened thereafter, we came back with a lone bronze medal won by our football team and were 78th on the overall medals table. This must rank as one of our worst performances in recent times. We usually have four years to prepare but we never learn and we have become last minute dot com experts and of course the blame game has begun from the myriad and plethora of administrators. A bunch of charlatans who barely understand their brief and who for the most part are chasing lucre cannot seemingly be in a position to plan for the next games
Typical of us, the sports minister in his wisdom chose to demotivate and chastise the team with his tirades at athletes particularly the football team and their coaches. We all knew how they ended up in Rio after a tortuous journey from Atlanta only rescued by DELTA airlines who offered to airlift the team for free after a botched chartered aircraft arrangement. Their win was only achieved by sheer determination, commitment and will power. As for our traditional sprint events where we excel on the last day, our sprinters in the 4x 100 and 4×400 were nowhere to be found as they had spent the greater part of the year on circuits chasing prize moneys and were burnt out. For boxing we were nowhere to be found, ditto for Greco roman wrestling. Another case in point was that of Chierika Ukogu; a Stanford graduate from diaspora and first female rower from Nigeria who sponsored herself to the games and who got as far as the semifinal. Her sponsorship was actualized through a GoFundMe page she created. Nigeria did not deem it fit to commend her for her patriotic zeal as she could well have chosen to fly anther country’s flag most times the likes of Qatar and Bahrain.
This is not how a Nation treats her heroes, and we recurringly punt patriotic fervor as a mantra. Present heroes are barely acknowledged talk less of recognized for their feats. I quite understand that the Olympics is not about winning all the time but about participating as it is a sporting amalgam that celebrates unity among nations through sports It is a celebration of joie de vivre and entente cordial but adequate preparation is still required to excel. In all of this, no post mortem has been conducted to find out the immediate and remote causes of our failure in Brazil. The team arrived home to no reception and for the football team that were rewarded with 390 thousand dollars by a Japanese Plastic surgeon Dr Katsuya Takasu who flew into Rio after the defeat of Honduras, the Nigerian Football Federation even had the effrontery to challenge the donor as to why he did not give the money to them to dispense.
No inquest has been called as it is business as usual. No one has been sanctioned for the team kits coming two days to the end of the event and for allowances not duly paid. The ceremonial attire worn by the team for the opening day parade and march past looked like a coat of many colours and no one has being brought to book. We are a country of anything goes.
The ray of hope and sunshine were the Paralympians who represented Team Nigeria with 23 athletes and six coaches and did us proud by winning 12 medals; 8 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze and look like leading the continent in terms of medal haul. Six of them even broke world records in their respective events. Not that they were given any money either for preparation as they all prepared on their own and were only ferried there and accommodation taken care of. I know of a particular Paralympian who a while back won a medal came back home and went back to begging and now he has won another medal and no succor still provided. Nigeria treats its glorious stars like derelicts and mendicants and we cannot continue in this way and manner if we are to excel in the comity of sporting nations. We always tout our potential in everything as if potential without preparation translates to success. Other nations have gone back to the drawing board and are already looking at where they went wrong and trying to right same. Our minister of Sports Barrister Solomon Dalung who revels in gaffe after gaffe cannot seem to accept responsibility for this misadventure in Rio. Rather he seems to approbate and reprobate in equal measure and in the process court controversy. A nation that does not recognize the power of sports as the most unique unifying force that binds us a nation and helps us forget our woes albeit temporarily is to a large extent an unserious one. The next Olympic games in the year 2020 will be held in Tokyo Japan; the land of the rising sun and I am hopeful that Sun can shine on us if we start our preparations in earnest.