As we ecstatically inch towards the finale of the greatest sports fiesta in the world, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil, it is becoming increasingly apparent to many Nigerians that this time, Nigeria is going to end up without a single medal of any colour in any of the sports event.
In fact, we may not even be in any of the finals of any sport, except perhaps, football, our current saving grace.
But before I go on, let me appreciate and say Thanks and Kudos to our motley crew of athletes who, despite all the obstacles hurled in their way by insensitive and inept officials, are still competing for their fatherland, and giving it best they could, under the extenuating circumstances.
Watching Rio 2016 Olympics athletics events is a sad reminder and unarguable confirmation of how far backwards Nigerian athletics – and indeed, sports – has gone.
While it is very heartening to watch a South African win the 400 meters men in world record time and a Botswanan finishing fifth, it is instructive to note that Nigeria was not represented in that event.
Also, the other day an Ivorian lady came fourth in the women’s 100 meters; again no Nigerian made it through to the finals.
To think that not too long ago, at least in Africa, the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters were the exclusive preserve of Nigeria, male and female. I really do wonder……
So, shaking my head, what is the matter with our track and field athletes, and again, indeed, sports? Our athletes are simply not performing (that is, those few ones we see), and whose fault?
Definitely, I will not pass the blame on the athletes; rather, it is the fault of our mediocre, corrupt and unpatriotic sports administrators and the indifferent Nigerian government itself.
The people, this time, take my vote; we are as enthusiastic, supportive and patriotic as ever and always.
One thing is clear and salient, Nigeria has got the talents – harnessing these talents and making them world champions will remain so very elusive as long as those in authority continue to be inept, lethargic, unconcerned, self-centred, self-serving, serving sectional interests, practicing nepotism, putting mediocrity before meritocracy and lacking vision and focus.
The lack of cohesion, the lack of adequate preparation for international events, the absence of unity, the overwhelming ethnicity complete the major reasons why we don’t do well in sporting activities these days… and I might add, in everything we do.
Oh! The days of Chidi Imoh, Innocent Egbunike, Sunday Bada, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Francis Obikwelu, Soji Fasuba, Henry Amike, Yusuf Alli, Olapade Adenekan, Osmond and Davidson Ezinwa, Deji Aliu, Glory Alozie, Christy Opara, Beattie Utondu, Chioma Ajunwa, Olabisi Afolabi, Regina George, Charity Opara, Clement Chukwu, Adewale Olukoju, Fatima Yusuf, Moses Ugbisien, Airat Bakare Adejobi, Alimat Sadiat Sowunmi Barnes, Carol Lyn Nwajei, Kehinde Vaughan, Linda Ezemokumo, Linda Ige, etc.
They don’t make them like these anymore.
These may not have won Olympic medals or World Championship medals, but they have won in Africa and made their marks on the international stage too.
Most of them were highly globally ranked and respected; gave Nigeria respect and dignity in athletics, and did their best for this country.
Olukayode Thomas (Playthegame.com of 09.08.2007) in his article, The Sorry State of Nigerian Sports, wrote:
“It is shocking that officials of NSC are not concerned that about a decade ago, for every eight lanes in the women 400m at either the European circuit or the IAAF Grand Prix, it was certain that four of the athlete would be Nigerians.
“Then we had three consistent 49.00 secs runners in Falilat Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Charity Opara and Fatimah Yusuf.
“The last of the four, Bisi Afolabi was then a consistent 50.00 secs runner. But officials of NSC are not bothered by any of the above.
“Nor are they bothered that a few years ago, Nigerian female sprinters like Mary Onyali, Gloria Alozie, Christy Okpara, Beatrice Utondu, Ajunwa, Mary Tombiri etc. rivalled the likes of Gwen Torrence, Gail Devers and others for honours in major games and championships.
They have forgotten that not too long ago Olapade Adeniken, the Ezinwa twin brothers, Davidson and Osmond, Daniel Effiong.
Francis Obikwelu, Seun Ogunkoya, Sunday Bada, Clement Chukwu, etc. were among the best sprinters and quarter-milers in the world.
They also don’t seem to remember that apart from the Americans, Nigeria’s relay teams were the most dreaded in the world not too long ago.
NSC officials do not realise that unless they go back to organising monthly classics and other developmental programmes and the American school system, we will never get back to where we were before, talk less of surpassing it.
It was local developmental programmes that led to the discovery of such phenomenal talents like Ajunwa, Bada, Afolabi, Ogunkoya, Obikwelu, Alozie, Nduka Awazie, Angela Atede, Rosa Collins, Innocent Asonze, Opara, Deji Aliu and others too numerous to mention, while the American school system gave as the likes of Ogunkoya-Omotayo, Onyali, Chidi, Imoh, the Ezinwa Brothers, Pat Itanyi, Fatimah Yusuf, Innocent Egbunike, Adewale Olukoju, Chima Ugwu, Vivian Chukwuemeka and others.