On Friday, July 27, 2012, the Nigerian Olympic train pulled up in London to join thousands of the world’s finest athletes to compete for diadems at the recently concluded 30th Olympic Games. Team Nigeria, however, set the record as the fastest among the 205 trains that showed up at the Games. It was the fastest train in the sense that while it took countries like the United States, China, Britain, South Korea, Russia and France four or more years to steam their trains to London, Team Nigeria covered the period in just four or so months to emerge at the British capital. Ironically, the Team Nigeria could not translate their speed into medals haul. Their overall performance at the global jamboree was a reminiscence of the Langalanga train disaster that occurred several decades ago.
Preparations for the Olympics are not about speed; they are all about long-term and strategic planning, commitment and selfless service. However, in Nigeria we do not plan. Everything is done disjointedly and in a rush. We wait until the last minutes. Then, we roll up our trousers and begin to run like a Tiv hunter in desperate pursuit of bush meat. We call it fire brigade approach, forgetting that oftentimes, the fire fighters arrive at the point of conflagration in their fire engines with no single drop of water in the tanks and they end up as watchers of the disaster they are called upon to put down. Today, the world of sports has gone beyond the fire brigade approach.
For the Olympics and other competitions that are even of lesser magnitude, it is only systematic planning and sustained funding that can yield the desired and positive results. Unfortunately, Nigeria, as usual, relied on the fire brigade tradition to win laurels at the London Games. Its fire brigade pattern paid off at the Atlanta ’96 during which Team Nigeria won two gold medals: one in the long jump and the other by the Dream Team. So excited was the football crazy Ghana that its government declared a public holiday to celebrate the soccer gold that it saw as a victory not only for Nigeria but also the entire continent.
We are a gambling nation. We gambled it through at the Sydney 2000 and got a gold and two silver medals. But the 2004 Athens Olympics was a costlier gamble which earned us two miserable bronze medals. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo was so pissed off by the scandalous outing at the Athens Games that he hurriedly empanelled the late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah to dig into the circumstances that precipitated the Athens debacle. Omeruah strafed the length and breadth of Nigeria, seeking the way forward for a country that could not return home with a single gold medal as it did in Atlanta and Sydney. Although the findings of the Omeruah panel were not made public, all we could boast of at the Beijing 2008 were a silver in football and three bronze medals.
For the first time in years, the nation’s sports governing body, the National Sports Commission (NSC), saw the wisdom in competing in events that the Team Nigeria had comparative advantage at the London Games. Unfortunately, we got to London before we realized that we had been left behind in all the seven or so sports that the Team Nigeria featured in. We even had to rely on the Diaspora basketballers that go by the name D’Tigers. After subduing the Tunisians in their opening match, the Tigers became easy meat for the US and others in their subsequent outings. Another Diaspora Olympian, British-born Nigerian, Joahny Akinyemi, switched camps but he had a nightmarish outing for Nigeria as he crashed out of his event at the first paddle of his canoe. Akinyemi’s nationality switch lighted up Team Nigeria’s camp just as his early exit from the event turned out to be a bad omen for the country.
I was greatly amused by the reaction of the Nigerian female boxer, Edith Ogoke, after she was pummeled black and blue in the quarterfinals by her Russian challenger. Edith was pleased about her punishment which she regarded as a good exposure and promised to do more better (sic) at the next Olympics in four whole years to come! Nigeria also banked on the African fastest woman, Blessing Okagbare, whose build-up to the London Games was quite impressive. But as it turned out in London, Okagbare, Damola Osayomi, Ajoke Odumosun, Tosin Oke et al, had imitated the proverbial antelope which danced itself lame before the real party began, having participated in virtually all the meets that brought food to their table en route to the London Games. Nigerians all over the globe watched in utter dismay as all their medal prospects crashed out one after the other. Not even Chika Chukwumerije, who won the Taekwondo bronze in Beijing, was able to put smiles on our faces.
Tosin Oke, the triple jumper, blamed Team Nigeria’s disastrous outing on inadequate preparations and poor motivation, alleging that the government provided enough funding (though it was too late) for the athletes but the cash did not trickle down. Oke’s allegation is a recurrent decimal at a time like this. It is common knowledge that almost all of those who have entrenched themselves in our sports administration are there not because of what they can offer for the growth and development of sports but because of what is in it for them.
Rising from its weekly Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, the government blew hot and declared that heads would roll following the London debacle…. a total re-engineering of sports management in the country may be in the offing. President Goodluck Jonathan is coming up with a presidential panel to look into the London show of shame. We do not need any mundane panel to tell us what is wrong with our sports at the local and global levels and how to remedy the situations. We all know where the fundamental problems lie. Most of those who are managing our sports at all levels have no business being there. They are self-seekers who will do everything possible to entrench themselves in the system, including a recourse to diabolical means. Aside from employing diabolism, they invest so much in godfatherism. Once their positions are threatened, all they have to do is to run to their godfathers to save their necks.
For the very first time in the history of Olympic returnees, the Team Nigeria and their officials have had to sneak into their own country like illegal immigrants. The officials, who have gone into hiding, should remain out of sight. The Nigerian sports arena will be a better place without them. It is such a huge pity that the Federal Government has just flushed a whopping N2.2bn down the drain, with the bulk of it funneled into the pockets of some sleazy and greedy sports technocrats. I have always insisted that any nations that enlist to prepare for the Olympic Games in the year of the Olympics are bound to crash from the Olympian height, and that is exactly what has happened to the Team Nigeria.
Filed Under: Clem Oluwole