NIGERIA AND 2012 OLYMPICS: WHERE WILL THE MEDAL COME FROM?
The London 2012 Olympics is now on its tenth day and should be finishing by the week end. As at the end of day 9, China leads the pack with 30Golds, 17Silver and 14Bronze medals, a total haul of 61 medals; The US is not far behind with 28Golds, 14 Silver and 18 Bronze ( a total of 60 medals in its haul); and host country United Kingdom has garnered an impressive 16Golds, 11Silver and 10Bronze medals, making a total of 37 medals with more chances of collecting a few more Gold and lesser medals before the end.
So far South Africa leads the African challenge with 3 Gold and 1 Silver medal: most of which were acquired in the Swimming event. The Ethiopians and Kenyans have been picking the Gold and lesser medals since Athletics- mostly in the long distance races kicked in over the weekend; even Egypt have picked a medal in Fencing!
My worry however is that this may well turn out the worst Olympics for Nigeria in terms of medal haul- since I started monitoring the sport event from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The way things are going we may not achieve any medal of any description, not even one Bronze, from what I can see in the 2012 games. The traditional sprint event which Nigeria usually dominate, at least in Africa, is now in the doldrums with no Nigerian male- of the three selected for the event, including Obinna Metu, Ogho Egwero and Peter Emelieze- making it to even the Semi-finals of the 100 Metres sprint event, not to talk of the Finals, won by Usain Bolt again, with 3 Jamaicans making the final list of the 100 metres event on Sunday 5th August, 2012.
This is an event in which Nigeria had the highest number of finalists, along with USA, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics won eventually by UK’s Lingford Christie, with Davidson Ezinwa and Adeniken Olapade making that finals. In the women event, we were lucky enough to have Blessing Okagbere who was peaking at the right time, making her personal best of 10.92seconds in the Semi-finals of the Women’s 100metres race, to make it to the finals, which again presented 2 or 3 Jamaicans. Unfortunately Ms Okagbare- with all the features of a world beater- suffered from a poor start, (dwelling on the blocks, more than she did in the semis but could not catch up with a stronger field, unlike in the semis) and posted a time of 11.02seconds, a far tenth/hundred of a second worse than her semi-final timing.
Our boxers are been pummelled for fun, with most of them, if not all been taken out in the first round; Our Basket ball team got hammered by the US team in an Olympic record of humiliation and the worst margin of defeat ever suffered in Olympics basket ball history. As for the other “minor” sports in water, field and other events our team are either not registered or could not compete with the best of the world. Not even the traditional 4X100 metres relay is our men registered for the event not to talk of winning a medal. Our football teams- male or female- did not even qualify from the African qualifiers to the Olympics never mind winning a medal at the event proper. This is an event in which Nigeria (for the male specie) have won Gold (Atlanta 1996) and a silver in the last edition of 2008 Beijing Olympics.) What a disaster for a huge country as Nigeria is with so much potential sport men and women if properly tapped and managed!
If a tiny country like Jamaica can keep churning out world beaters in the sprint events- both male and female categories- Nigeria with the largest amalgam of black young men and women should not have any problems producing at least sprinters from the large pool to chose from, if the motivation, proper management and adequate preparations are put in place. You don’t just wait till Olympic year or few months to the Olympics before you start your knee jerk, fire fighting preparations and thinking you will achieve anything against more serious nations.
Like everything Nigeria, our sport is decaying and this decay cannot be ostracised from the general malaise of corruption plaguing the country in its entire facet. Sports are not adequately been funded as so much money is been misallocated to bureaucracy or outrightly stolen by those in the helm of affairs. Great Britain has shown that careful and proper investment in sports yield good results. Since 2006 when it got the offer to host the 2012 Olympics it started serious work on not just producing a first class facility for the events but also grooming and funding most areas of its sports including giving adequate grants to sportsmen to develop and excel themselves in selective sports areas in Cycling, Rowing, Equestrian, Fencing, Boxing and general Athletics. In other words preparations started over 6 years ago in all its ramifications and the result is not just the hitch-free hosting of all events at the London Olympics, but also its largest medal haul ever, including 16 Gold medals so far and counting. You cannot beat adequate preparation and funding.
With the massive unemployment in Nigeria I wonder why Nigeria cannot train and motivate more sportsmen to compete in Olympics with the best of the world every four year; I am surprised that Nigeria cannot produce Swimmers that can beat the world despite toddlers in Rivers, Cross River and Delta states swimming at the age of 4 years old. There are so many fresh rivers and most people in Bayelsa and Rivers state virtually live inside waters and know how to swim very well from very young age. It baffles me that we cannot produce Swimmers, Canoeist and other water-related sports persons at Olympics or All African games. There are so many water sports including synchronised swimming, Water Polo, Canoeing, Diving, Sailing and Rowing at the Olympics. Why can’t people from River abundant areas of Nigeria start and develop themselves in these water-based sports? I am sure most of the militants and kidnappers in Niger Delta areas could compete well if they are encouraged from early years in these sports. Sports do pay and government can use these to create more employment from the individuals to the medical teams, coaches and administrators in each of these areas. And what is more government can use these to earn more foreign exchange.
Sports administrators must start to look at areas where Nigeria could have competitive advantage and develop those areas of sports. Its no excuse to say we can’t afford it or we can’t be compared with Britain or the US because those are rich nations, but what about poor Jamaica turning out male and female sprinters for fun? Perhaps our sports administrators need to go study what Jamaica does to be world beaters in sprint races; I believe many Usain Bolts are wasting away in Nigeria, untapped, unrecognised and demotivated to perform sports to the highest levels..
By Tony Ishiekwene