The Rio Olympics has ended and it’s no more news that it was a shambolic and truly embarrassing outing for Nigeria. I hate to say I told you so, but I had written in an article published in this column about a month to the games that it would be a spectacular failure. But there was hardly anything prophetic about my prediction. The signs were everywhere for everyone to see. A popular adage posits that if you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail. And fail we did. In every aspect. Even the lone medal, a bronze in the football men’s event, was won from the sheer will and determination of the coaches and players. We remember how the team only managed to reach Brazil few hours to the kickoff of their first match against Japan.
That is why it is laughable when the sports minister, Solomon Dalong, who had promised at least 10 medals prior to the games, blames the failure at Rio on the past administration. There could be no better case of burying one’s head in the sand. Perhaps the last administration was also responsible for the ceremonial wears of the team as well as their kits not making it to Rio, arriving only 3 days to the end of the summer games. Little wonder Don Wilder famously said; “Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.” Many are still waiting to see if the minister keeps his job after what was an embarrassing outing, but then you want to ask, which ministry really is currently delivering the goods?
Rather than the empty excuses and sharing of blames, one will expect that we will return from Rio with a basket full of lessons learnt on how not to make it at the Olympics. One will expect that sports administrators will take responsibility for the woeful outing, apologise to the country and then resolve to do what was necessary to ensure Tokyo in four years’ time is an entirely different experience for both the athletes and the country.
These things are not rocket science. If we cannot take a man to space, we should at least be able to make our mark on the global stage via sports. We know that the talents are not in short supply. This is the largest black nation on the planet. We have the population to draw from and experience has shown that Nigerians excel very brilliantly when they are given the opportunity and needed support. We must realise that winning medals at the Olympics does not come by mere wishful thinking or prayers. It is not also something you hold few weeks camping for, no matter how gifted an athlete you are. Countries who left Rio with their kitty full of medals prepared for at least four years for it. Indeed countries like the US and China have a long drawn out plan of action for these games such that they seemingly effortlessly trounce their opponents when the games finally arrive.
It is not magic. If we want to excel in Tokyo, we must begin now. There has to be a ‘method’ to the ‘madness’. First, we must identify the sports we want to compete in — especially those we have a comparative advantage in. The traditional areas of strength; Sprint, football, weight lifting, and boxing aside, we need to raise athletes that can compete for medals in other sports which we have simply ignored over the years. Someone said there was no reason why we had no contestants in Swimming, archery and shooting sports. It took a decision and personal effort of our US based lone rower Chierika Ukogu for us to participate in that sports when our people have been paddling canoes and rowing for ages.
The Federations of such identified sports must now rise up to the occasion. One wonders how people feel comfortable to occupy seats in federations that cannot even produce a single athlete for the Olympic Games. The Federations under the guidance of the Sports ministry must now draw up four year plans towards Tokyo 2020 and this should include building capacity of known talents, identifying new talents, engagement of coaches, planning of training tours, acquisition of modern training equipment and knowledge, exposing the athletes to international competitions, proper budgetary planning and clear strategies for raising funds outside of government’s purse through corporate sponsorships.
These are not things to be mouthed off for the camera like the sports ministers declaring to journalists recently that preparations for Tokyo have begun. It requires clear-cut strategies, a team of people capable of critical reasoning and execution, a commitment by government to keep its part of the bargain and pack of athletes who are fired up to see their nation’s flag raised and their anthem played in Tokyo.
If we are a serious people we will realise that beyond the medals and national pride, there is a lot of benefit to be reaped from sports. Nothing unites our people like it and indeed nothing better harnesses the strength, skills and creative abilities of our youths. It is thus an opportunity begging to be exploited both by the government and the public sector. But no private body will put their money into a sector where government has not created an enabling environment, where there is simply no order.
The tunes being sang now are familiar, we’ve heard them before. We heard them after London in 2012. We will still hear them again in 2020 after Tokyo if we don’t get off our behinds and begin to do what is necessary to give us a different result.
On a final note, I believe congratulations are in order to the U23 football team for doing us proud. Nigerians salute you.
First published here on 23 August 2016