2016 Rio Olympic Games: How Prepared is Nigeria?

Blessing Okagbare

The idea of applying fire brigade methods when preparing for major competitions has become a usual phenomenon in Nigeria, something which has often affected the athlete’s chances of winning medals.

With less than three months to the commencement of one of the greatest sporting showpiece in the world in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, team Nigeria are still short of adequate preparation that could guarantee medals at the Olympic Games.

The last time Nigeria participated at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the athletes failed to cart home a single medal, in what was the country’s worst performance considering the array of stars that featured for Team Nigeria.

It was expected that with the likes of Blessing Okagbare, Damola Osayomi, Ogho-Oghene Egwero, Ajoke Odumosu and Doreen Amata for athletics/track and field; Jonathan Akinyemi for canoeing; Funke Oshinaike, Segun Toriola and Edem Offiong for table tennis and Chika Chukwumerije for taekwondo, Nigeria’s hope of breaking the odds at the Olympic Games would be actualized, however, it was never meant to be.

It was assumed that lessons would have been learned from Nigeria’s disastrous participation in London, but then, it’s gradually dawning on most Nigerians that the sports administration has not learned from their past mistakes.

Some of the major reasons why team Nigeria always disappoints at the Olympic Games is due to lack of adequate preparation and poor funding for the athletes.

Thankfully, Nigeria’s D’Tigers were champions at the FIBA Afrobasket Championship in Tunisia for the first time since the tournament was inaugurated, which automatically qualifies the team for Rio Olympics.

D'Tigers wins 2015 Afrobasketball

However, after their victorious feat, the team remains in limbo without organizing international friendly matches to keep the team in shape. Only recently, it was announced that the team will play the U.S. National Basketball team as part of preparation for the Games, something worth applauding but still, there is a great need for the federation to organize more grade ‘A’ international friendly matches. Likewise the track and field events where only Blessing Okagbare remains Nigeria’s surest hope of winning a medal due to her personal training and competitions that she attends in Europe, just won’t cut it.

Olympic Games, being one of the world’s biggest sporting events, takes two to three years to prepare for as witnessed in other countries, of which the same can’t be said about Nigeria. All Africa gold medalist, Deji Aliu frowned at the spotty preparation being given to the athletes that will be representing Nigeria at the Olympic Games.

Nigerian boxer against an opponent

”A lot of things are not right with the preparations. The Olympics is one the biggest sporting events in the world and some countries have been preparing for three years or four years but our own we prepare for it in maybe May or June,” Aliu said.

“The Olympics is just around the corner but most of our athletes are nowhere to be found. I read somewhere that athletes were just invited to camp two or three weeks ago which is not right. Even when they get to camp, the conditions are nothing to write home about and the people they are going to face are having the best treatments in the world and have been preparing for a long time.”

“How can we compete with such athletes?”, he said.

Deji-Aliu-square
At the 1996 National trials, a relatively unknown runner Deji Aliu, lined up against Nigerian greats Chidi Imoh, Davidson Ezinwa.

It is so sad that the National Sports Commission has not provided 100% attention to the various sports events such as boxing, judo, wrestling, tennis, and basketball.

The Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung has revealed that Nigeria will be represented in just eight sporting events at the 2016 Olympic Games.

They include men’s football, basketball, canoeing, table tennis, some track and field events and wrestling.

“Our plan is to present only eight sporting events at the Olympics and we are going to invest more in the sports to make sure they have good outings in Brazil,” Dalung said.

“But if we will go beyond the eight we have now, we will look into it and see the decision we can make”, he added.

Interestingly, of all the eight sports being mentioned by the sports minister, football receives the most attention. This further explains why federations have blamed the NSC for concentrating more on football than other sports in the country. This criticism comes on the backdrop that the NSC’s budget for football whenever there is major event can’t be compared to what other sports get from them.

Director General of the NSC, Alhassan Yakmut insisted that the commission has been working around the clock to ensure that Nigeria is ready for the challenges at the Olympic games.

In the words of the Nigerian Wrestling Federation President, Daniel Igali, preferential treatment given to some sports over others when it comes to getting ready for major championships is a problem.

nigerian_wrestler

“The sports authorities feel that the money that could have been used to send athletes for training in preparation for the Olympics to bring glory to the country can better be used for an irrigation project,” Igali said.

“Imagine over N300 million spent on the Eaglets; but yet just N20 million for wrestlers was said to be too much an investment in an Olympic year! This is really sad.”

If the National Sports Commission of Nigeria fails to do the right thing at the right time ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, then the tendency that Nigeria will return home without a medal is certain.