Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Kudos to gallant Team Nigeria!

Each time there is positive news on Nigeria, I like to celebrate it. Yes, the nation faces enormous developmental challenges in virtually all facets of human endeavours. Yet, it is not all negative news about my fatherland. We are a great nation of good people. The sad thing is that a handful of bad people give the country a poor international image. Nigeria is a giant, not only because it is the most populous African country, it is also a ‘Goliath’ in the sphere of entertainment. By this I mean in music, acting and sports. On this page, I have previously saluted the immense achievements of our music icons, our Nollywood artistes and our sports men and women. It is time again to celebrate our sports ambassadors.

Kudos to Team Nigeria’s contingents to the 2015 Afrobasket in Rades, Tunisia as well as 11th Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville. It would be recalled that our teams to the two competitions did the nation proud by coming first and second respectively. It was a sweet revenge when Nigeria’s D’Tigers beat its arch-rival and several times nemesis in Basketball, Angola 74-65 in the final of Afrobasket 2015 on August 30 to claim their first-ever continental championship. It was also a double victory because; aside being crowned African champions, the Nigerians also qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Furthermore, Chamberlain Oguchi scored 19 points and was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.  Another high point of the competition for Nigeria is that it produced two out of the five best players in the tournament.  Oguchi was named among the All-Star Five which also included his Nigeria team-mate Al-Farouq Aminu, Morais of Angola, Tunisia's Makram Ben Romdhane and Gorgui Dieng of Senegal.

At the just concluded eleventh African Games in Congo Brazzaville (September 4 to 19), Team Nigeria placed second with 47 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 44 (Bronze) medals behind Egypt’s 74 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 63 (Bronze). The last time we came second was 12 years ago which thus make this year’s performance outstanding.

A breakdown of Team Nigeria’s medals showed that Athletics accounted for more medals recording 10 (Gold) 9 (Silver) and 5 (Bronze) medals with Wrestling in the second position with 9 (Gold) 5 (Silver) and 4 (Bronze) medals. Weightlifting finished third with 8 (Gold) 18 (Silver) and 9 (Bronze) medals while Powerlifting accounted for 8 (Gold) 7 (Silver) and 2 (Bronze) medals. It was a pleasant surprise that Cycling gave Nigeria 1 (Gold) 1 (Silver) and 1 (Bronze) medals.

Among the high points of Nigeria’s performance at the African Games in Congo Brazzaville was the several World Records broken by our Power Lifters.  Yakubu Adesokan, competing in the men’s 49kg category, lifted 182.5kg to win gold and also set a new world record in the process. Another Nigerian, Esther Oyema, set a new world record in the women’s 55kg category when she lifted 133kg to erase her previous 126kg record. The trio of Bose Omolayo, Loveline Obiji and Precious Orji also set new World Records. Omolayo lifted 137.5kg in the women’s 79kg while Obiji lifted 149kg in the women’s 86kg category, before Orji, competing in the women’s 86kg, lifted 164kg to complete five world records and gold medals for Team Nigeria in Congo.

Ironically, football (male and female) accounted for the low points of Team Nigeria’s outing in Congo with the male team finishing with a bronze medal. Basketball, against high expectation, gave Nigeria 1 Silver (Women) and 1 Bronze (Men). Overall, am very proud of the sterling performance of all our sports ambassadors as none of them was found to have failed dope test.

Are there any lessons from these two events – Afrobasket and African Games 2015 – for Nigeria? Plenty! These noble achievements are not by fluke. It came as a result of right investment, careful planning and transparent administration. For instance, D’Tigers had to hire foreign coach, William Voigt, in order to break a 50 years jinx in African Basketball competition. Not only that, the leadership of  National  Sports Commission, under its current Director General, Alhassan Yakmut ensured that Nigeria only participated in games where she can win medals. This ensured that it was not a jamboree or all comers’ affairs.  Yakmut also run open and transparent administration. He announced to the public that N2.9bn was given to the commission for the Africa Games by Federal Government and tasked all participating sporting federation to account for monies disbursed to them.

Yakmut also made sure that athletes’ allowances were promptly paid to them. $2,000 was paid for each gold medal won at the Games while each Silver and Bronze medalist got $1,500 and $1,000 respectively. In the team events, each member of the team, for example, cycling involving six cyclists received $1,000 each, while beach volleyball involving two players were paid $1,500 each for winning gold medal. Each Coach was paid $2,500 for guiding their athletes to a successful outing in the Games. This swift payment of winning bonuses was a morale booster to the athletes and a clean break from the opaque past when there were issues with payment of camp allowances, accommodation, kits, winning bonuses, etcetera.  Am putting this on record so that Nigerians would not think that coming second in African Games was a happenstance.

I also recalled that Team Nigeria contingents left for Congo in batches based on the start-date for their respective competitions.  This not only ensured that the country saved foreign exchange they would have paid on accommodation and  allowances, the athletes were also able to round off their trainings in Nigeria without distractions.

Am happy that NSC Director General has vowed to take Nigeria off playing second or third fiddle in African Games. What he needs to do is to build on 2015 achievements and ensured proper planning for the 2016 Rio Olympics. If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail. Am happy that President Buhari has promised total support for Nigerian sports, he needs to do more than talking. Adequate funding and prompt release of earmarked resources to the NSC is vital. Nigeria also needs to start grooming athletes that can bring us laurels in high medal games such as Swimming and Gymnastics as well as next generation of track and field athletes that will take over from our aging and less productive ones. We need to start fishing for new breed sportsmen and women from our inter house, inter collegiate and national sports festivals. NSC and its sports federations need to roll out plans that will attract private sector investment. Sports, we must note, is a big business. While we go about that, let’s savour our recent successes, congratulations, Team Nigeria!

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