Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bravo, Team Nigeria!

Congratulations are in order for our heroines and heroes of Team Nigeria to the 10th All African Games in Maputo, Mozambique. After 16 days of stiff competitions which took place from September 3 – 18, 2011, Nigeria’s sports ambassadors placed third on overall medals table. They were only bettered by perpetual rivals, South Africa and Egypt out of about 50 participating countries and at least 5,000 athletes that vied for honours at the quadrennial games. Very painful is the loss of the second position to Egypt on the final day of the competition as the North African country was one gold medal better than Nigeria. Hence in spite of our 98 medals to Egypt’s 66, the athletes from the land of Pharaohs still came second.

Nigeria was represented at the sports fiesta by contingents of 459 persons made up of 324 athletes and 135 officials. The country participated in about 18 out of 20 sports being competed for. The breakdown of the representatives in each sport is as follows: athletes - 36, badminton – 12, Basketball - 24, Beach Volleyball - 8, Boxing - 9 and Canoeing - 12. Others include Chess - 12, Cycling - 12, and Handball - 36. Judo has 14, Karate - 22, Para-athletics - 44, Para-Swimming – 9, Swimming - 10 and Table Tennis - 10. There were 16 in Taekwondo, 8 in Tennis, 6 in Triathlon while Volleyball has 24. Of all the sports, Nigeria did not compete in Football, Netball and Sailing. These athletes won a total of 31 Gold, 28 Silver and 39 Bronze to place third on the list of 36 countries on the final medals table. Games statistics showed that a total of 808 medals were won, comprising 248 gold, 246 silver and 314 bronze.

On a positive note, Nigerian athletes were not involved in any drug scandal. None of them failed the dope test unlike what happened at Delhi in India during last year’s Commonwealth Games. Our male basketball team D’Tigers, for the first time since the commencement of AAG in 1965 in Congo Brazzaville, won gold by beating the host nation, Mozambique 62-57 in the final. Nigeria had in the semi-final defeated her arch-rival Angola to make it to the final. Nigeria also confirmed and maintained her superiority in track and field events especially in sprints (100m, 200m, 400m, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays). We also did well in long jump, high jump, hurdles and triple jump. Nigeria indeed dominated in athletics, picking a total of 42 medals comprising 18 gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze. The country also did fairly well in Canoeing where we won a silver and a bronze medal in our first outing in the sport at the AAG.

Few drawbacks for Nigeria at the games are the non-inclusion of Wrestling, Weightlifting and Power-lifting among the sports for competition at the 10th All African Games. Mozambique had pleaded lack of fund to provide facilities that would have enabled her to offer the sports for competition. Indeed, Mozambique offered to host the games when Zambia which won the hosting bid in 2007 pulled out a couple of years back, citing lack of finance. Information has it that Mozambique spent $250 million to host the games. With the benefit of hindsight, Nigeria could have assisted the host nation to provide facilities for these sports in which we have comparative advantage in order to shore up our medal haul to be able to win the competition. After all, South Africa was said to have been the one that built the swimming pool for Mozambique knowing full well that there lies the strength of her athletes. The investment paid off handsomely as the country dominated the Maputo 2011 swimming event clearing 33 gold, 24 silver, 18 bronze. This shows that almost half of South Africa’s total of 155 medals was won in swimming alone!

There were complaints by officials and sports journalists that covered the 10th All African Games about logistic challenge in terms of securing visa in Maputo, accreditation and information about when and where events are taking place. In the words of veteran sports journalists, Fabio Lanipekun, who also covered the Maputo Games “the dearth of information concerning the Games was sickening. You do not know what will take place where and when, and as much as the official delegations were victims, so also were sports journalists....... Some journalists were not accredited till the sixth day into the Games.” Fabio also observed that “apart from some of the hotels which flew some national flags, the entire Maputo city wore the look of gloom as there were no buntings or decorations celebrating the presence of the entire African continent, made up of 54 countries.” (See his column “Grandmaster” in the Sunday Tribune of September 18, 2011)

The stripping of Otonye Iworima of her triple jump gold medal and the order of re-run which made her come third as well as the in-fighting that led to the decampment of Nigeria’s boxing head coach, Obisia Nwankpa from Maputo Games were unfavourable to Nigeria’s quest to win the 10th All African Games. Now the games are over, what next for Nigeria?

I recommend that Nigerian government should properly reward the medallist athletes who did the nation proud in Maputo. They should be hosted by the president and financially motivated. Those in school among them should be given automatic scholarship to enhance their academic excellence, national honours for the worthy sports ambassadors will also be a morale booster for the athletes. Preparation for the July 2012 London Olympics should start in earnest. There is no short cut to success. If we fail to prepare, then, we are preparing to fail.

I am happy Nigeria has decided to participate in only six sports in London. Team Nigeria Chef de Mission, Alhassan Yakmut was quoted as saying that the National Sports Commission has decided to participate in only athletics, wrestling, weightlifting, taekwondo and para-athletics. This is good thinking. Simultaneously, preparation for the 11th All African Games in 2015 to be hosted by Congo Brazzaville should commence in earnest. One way of going about this is for the National Sports Commission to commence scouting for young athletes that can be groomed to take over from the ageing elite athletes. Our grassroots sport development must therefore be taken very serious.

I fully endorse the decision of Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) at its extraordinary general assembly in Maputo that henceforth it would take over the organisation of the All Africa Games from 2015 and that the quadrennial competition will begin to serve as qualifier for the Olympic Games.