Rio Olympics: Team Nigeria, disaster waiting to happen?

The Olympics started in far-away Rio in Brazil. Many countries have adequately prepared their athletes and are eager to see the games begin. 

The games kicks off on August 5. While so many countries have completed the preparations of their athletes because they began four years ago; immediately after the London 2012, Nigeria, the most populous black country and “giant of Africa” failed to understand why she is sending her athletes to the games. 

This confusion is borne out of the country’s legacy of “fire brigade approach” to virtually everything she undertakes. One would have expected that as a country which performed woefully at the London 2012 Olympics, Nigeria should have been one of the countries that are by now very much prepared for the edition in Rio but the reverse is the case. 

At the London 2012, Nigeria, the self acclaimed or sometime ago giant of Africa did not have a podium finish while some African countries Nigerians believe to be minor and of lower status had their national flags and anthem paraded and sang. 

Nigerian Athlete at the RIo Olympics

The failure of the country to have a podium finish did not spur her to take a decision to prepare her athletes adequately for Rio 2016 games in order to take the world by storm and recover the fame of being touted the giant of Africa and one of the world’s super powers in sports. Nigeria rather went to sleep after the London disaster. 

The only remarkable step the country took was organising a Presidential Sports Summit immediately after the games. But the big question is; what benefit was derived from the summit? With the seriousness attached to the summit held at the Presidential banquet hall in Aso Villa with former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan leading his Cabinet members; the national assembly members, states governors, captains of industries from within and without the shores of Nigeria in attendance the country should have at least learnt how to begin early preparations of her athletes to major competitions like the Olympic Games.

 However, the sing song of paucity of funds which delays and in most cases denies athletes their right to adequate preparations so that they attend the games as competitors and not participants still lingers. Some suspected reasons behind the country’s fire brigade approach to important issues like preparations for the Olympics are that those in government (ministers, Directors General ), 

even those of them in the presidency and National Assembly seize that opportunity to amass wealth. I have tried as a journalist to find a country that waits till about a month to a major competition before the funds meant for both preparations and participation are lumped together and released after athletes had cried to high heavens for help during preparations without any concern from the authorities and I have not been able to see one country that shares this identity with Nigeria. 

All I have heard and read is how much a country spent in preparing an athlete and how much such country budgeted and released in good time for her contingent to compete in the games This is the basis of my worry. From onset Nigeria in every four years prepare adequately to participate in the Olympics not to compete and that is why most of the medals won previously were by sheer luck. 

Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung with President Buhari

How do I mean? A thorough check on the medals won and the winners confirms that the feat was not as a result of proper or adequate planning as no such athlete came close to winning such medal again four years after. Countries and athletes who prepare adequately not only perform credibly well but go ahead to repeat the feat four or more years later. 

Besides men football event which Nigeria won gold in Atlanta ’96 and silver in Beijing 2008 I can scarcely mention any other event and the reason is lack of preparations orchestrated by government’s lip service to sports development. While countries like United States of America, Jamaica, Kenya, South Africa etc have earmarked the number of medals they will gun for based on their preparations, Nigeria is solely depending on miracle or is it magic to come home with a medal.

When it was seventeen days to the kick off of the games, the federal government of Nigeria woke up from deep slumber and promised of ensuring that the funds budgeted are released without further delay. This promise came with a proviso: 

“Anybody who has no business with the games should not travel but if he or she must travel, it must be on self sponsorship.” No doubt, the statement was meant to avert the usual jamboree which has been the hallmark of Nigerian contingent to major games. But that is not the solution because already the country’s participation at the Rio Olympics is a jamboree when one considers the level of preparations of the athletes. 

Though sports is not mathematics where 2+2=4 it is pertinent to note that no athlete strolls into success or stumbles over gold, silver or bronze medal. To get to a podium finish an athlete must have worked very hard and prepared adequately before going to compete in any competition. Anything short of that makes the athlete a mere participant which leads to jamboree. 

Team Nigeria at the Opening ceremony of the RIo Olympics

 Is it not laughable that the government that did not care for the preparations of its athletes is asking the athletes to come home with medals and ensure they make the country proud. 

A former DG of the sports ministry/ national sports commission (now scraped), said one of the ministers he worked while speaking for the government asked why did Nigeria fail to win medals in the particular events Nigerians believe so much that medals must come from. His reply was that organisers had finished selling the medals as countries had bought all the medals before Nigerian contingent arrived. 

What it simply means is that even if medals are for sale, government’s delay in releasing funds for the games will hinder the country from purchasing a medal. 

The present minister of youth and sports Solomon Dalung while fielding questions at the media briefing on the official handing over of Team Nigeria contingent by the government to the Nigeria Olympic Committee that he was not aware that the national U-23 team travelled to USA for their preparations. This same minister is expecting medal from football event at the Rio 2016. As a patriotic Nigerian, I will be happy to see our flag paraded and our national anthem sang with our athletes mounting on the medal podium to be decorated but beyond patriotism, the reality is that Team Nigeria contingent to the Rio 2016 is disaster waiting to happen.