Saturday, August 6, 2016

Nigeria’s shoddy preparations for 2016 Rio Olympics

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well. - Pierre de Coubertin.

The 2016 Rio Summer Olympics holding in Brazil is underway having officially commenced on August 5, 2016. Although, the games unofficially opened on Wednesday. August 3 with women football matches.  Over 11,000 athletes from 206 countries will be participating in 306 events in 28 sports at the quadrennial games. Since Nigeria made her debut in 1952, the country’s athletes have appeared in every edition of the Summer Olympics Games, except that of 1976 in Montreal, Canada because of the African boycott. President Muhammadu Buhari  on July 19, 2016 ‎ at the official handover of Team Nigeria to the Nigeria Olympic Committee and his investiture as the Grand Patron of the body said  “Nigeria has 49 qualified male athletes and 29 female athletes, giving us a total of 78 athletes in 10 sport disciplines.” The country will be competing in football, canoeing, basketball, table-tennis, athletics (track and field), wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, swimming and rowing.   

Nigerian athletes, Wikipedia records, have won a total of 23 (3 Gold, 8 Silver and 12 Bronze) medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. The national football team won the gold medal in 1996. Same year, the country, through Policewoman, Chioma Ajunwa also grabbed gold medal in women’s long jump. In 2008, following the International Olympic Committee's decision to strip the American 4 × 400 metre relay team of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, their Nigerian rivals were awarded the gold medal.  Nigeria also won a medal in the heavyweight division of taekwondo at the 1992 Summer Olympics; as this was only a demonstration sport, Emmanuel Oghenejobo's silver did not count as an official win.

In the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London, Nigerian contingent did not win any medal making people to jest that they went to look and count the London Bridges and see the Queen. The country may be heading for another disgraceful outing in Rio de Janeiro. When serious nations were preparing since the last Olympics ended, Nigerian sporting federations went to sleep. Barely six months to the start-off date, they commenced camping and training tours. In fact, many of Nigeria’s teams could not win the qualifying tickets to go to the current Olympics. Those who qualified for Rio did not have optimal preparations that would enable them compete favourably at the games.

Take for instance the Nigerian U-23 male football contingent (Dream Team VI) who were stranded in Atlanta, USA and could only get to Manaus, Brazil few hours before their first match against Japan. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation reportedly told the British Broadcasting Corporation that: “The Nigerian government [sports ministry] is responsible for booking the tickets for the team to travel but we heard there is a logistical mix-up with payments. The money paid by the ministry for the charter flight did not hit airline’s account on Tuesday so they refused to fly the team to Brazil. The hitch in the transfer of funds is being blamed on currency conversions via various bank accounts. It is a cumbersome exercise but they should have started the process much earlier, which NFF was pointing out.” For God’s sake logistics is not a rocket science which should be too tasking. News report has it that Nigeria football team became a butt of joke in United States. What a national embarrassment!

Earlier, there was controversy over an e-mail purportedly sent to athletes to buy their own flight tickets to Brazil for a later day reimbursement. Some of our athletes have to take to social media to seek for financial support. Can you beat that?  There have been so much hues and cry over insufficient funding and late release of funds. If we do not have money to bankroll our participation in Rio, we simply could have done the honourable thing by withdrawing rather than soiling our national image with negative news that makes us look like sub-humans or dimwitted people who cannot do anything right. It is not the first time this is happening in our sports. It has indeed been a recurring decimal. Imagine the recent global opprobrium Nigeria Football Federation   got Nigeria into over the botched appointment of Chief Technical Adviser for Nigeria’s male national football team, Super Eagles. How can NFF announce the appointment of Paul Le Guen when it has not fully agreed with him on terms and condition of engagement? Only in Nigeria!

There are so many things Nigeria can gain if our sports are well managed. Sports are tools for international diplomacy. There are a lot of economic rewards in sports. The athletes, the coaching and technical crews as well as the country stand to benefit monetarily from sports. The value chain includes sports equipment manufacturing companies and those trading in them. Nigeria indeed needs to harness the great potentials inherent in sports. Our games administrators need to get their acts together and think outside the box. Over dependence on government funding for sports has been counter-productive. Unfortunately, lack of transparency and accountability by our sports administrators have made the private sector hesitant to robustly support games financing through various sponsorship deals, endorsements and advertisements.

Anyway, am gladdened by some sound bites from PMB’s meeting with Team Nigeria on July 19.  The president emphasised the need for our contingent to keep the integrity of our nation intact by competing clean and fair at the Olympic Games. He was quoted as saying: “Please bring as many medals back home as a result of your efforts and endeavour. But remember it is more important to compete and acquit your country as a fair sporting nation than to bring a pack of medals as a result of bending the rules and denying the Games of fair competition.”

PMB reportedly also said: “We are all aware of our nation’s dwindling revenue and the current global economic challenges. It is therefore imperative that funds provided for the games are utilised judiciously. In this regard, any official who has no business at the games should stay at home to cheer the team from here and if they must travel to the Olympics, they should do so at their own expense.” Very right decision Mr. President! No more jamborees!