The Rio Olympic Games have come and gone. With bitter-sweet memories we remember Team Nigeria’s participation in Brazil and their failure to claim more than a bronze medal out of the 2,102 medals that could be won in 28 Olympic sports. Although, much wasn’t expected from the Nigerian athletes considering their poor preparation and funding from the sports ministry compared to their counterparts at the Olympics, however, it would have been fair enough if they had made the country proud by winning more than just a bronze medal.
The country’s only medal was the bronze medal won by the Dream Team VI at the men’s football event after defeating Honduras 3-2 in the third place match.
Nigerian sprinter Divine Oduduru, who was regarded as a potential medal winner, failed to live up to expectations. The women’s 4x100m relay team led by Blessing Okagbare made it to the finals only to fail to be anywhere near medal contention, placing dead last out of eight competitors in the heat.
Team Nigeria placed 78th in the rankings published by the organizing committee of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. USA placed first with 46 gold medals, Great Britain second with 27 gold, while China placed in third with 26 gold medals. USA won a total of 121 medals, while Usain Bolt’s Jamaica came 16th after winning six gold medals, three silver medals, and two bronze medals. Kenya stands as the highest placed African team after winning six gold medals, six silver medals, and one bronze medal.
Despite featuring in eight events at the Games such as boxing, canoeing (slalom), football (male), rowing, swimming, table tennis, weightlifting, and basketball (male), attention was focused on the athletics event where Nigeria was considered to have an outside chance of snatching some medals. But then athletes such as Blessing Okagbare, Tosin Oke, Gloria Asumnu, Ese Brume, Ejowvokoghene Oduduru, Patience Okon George, Tega Odele, Agnes Osazuwa, and Olivia Ekpone, among others, failed to hit the medals mark.
In comparative terms, we have not improved our dismal record at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Essentially, we have been idle in the past four years. Nigeria has been deteriorating in sport. Following Nigeria’s exceptionally awful performance at the London Olympic Games, everyone thought we had learned a sad lesson and would immediately put into action a systematic and sustained training regimen to prepare our sportsmen and women to turn things around, well ahead of the start of the Rio Olympic Games. The harvest of failures at the Rio Games shows we learned nothing and did little to nothing to prepare our athletes for success. Will we ever learn? What would it take to stir the sleeping giant of Africa to redeem its long lost image in international sports?
Most of the blame goes to the Sports Ministry for their failure in releasing certain funds that could have been used to facilitate training camps for some of the athletes in their various capacity. Success goes beyond just applying the usual fire brigade approaches, a thing which has become the normal phenomenon in the nation’s sports, regardless of the task at hand.
Of what relevance is the presence of the Minister of Sports, Bar. Solomon Dalung in Rio, when he claimed that there are limited funds to splash to the federations for the Nigerian athletes to perform perfectly? Why the mandate of five medals when he knows that those athletes that will be representing the nation are not adequately prepared and funded?
To make matters worse, some of the Team Nigeria athletes were seen stranded in Nigeria a week to the biggest sporting event in the world. Compared to their foreign contingents, who must have had four or three years preparing for Rio Olympic Games, and at least were entering Rio a few days or weeks before the opening of the Games. Imagine an event like rowing where US-based Nigerian Chierika Ukogu had to source for personal funds in order to participate at the Games! Not also forgetting, Nigeria’s U-23 team that was almost on the verge of missing their opening match against Japan in Men’s football, they landed at the venue five hours to the match, after being stranded for days in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
It’s a pity that the Nigeria Sports Ministry has failed in taking care of certain responsibilities such as the discovery and development of young talent that can take over from the tiring legs of some of the older athletes. Gone are the days when school sport was the catching point in unearthing boys and girls that would end up becoming a force to be reckoned with, not just in Nigeria, but in the international scene.
Athletes such as Olusoji Fasuba, Francis Obikwelu, Davidson Ezinwa, Deji Aliu, Jude Monye, Sunday Bada, Enefiok Udo-Obong, Gloria Alozie, Tony Osheku, Beatrice Utondu, Faith Idehen; Christy Opara-Thompson, Chioma Ajunwa, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, Falilat Ogunkoya, Sunday Uti, Moses Ugbusien, Rotimi Peters, and Innocent Egbunike made Nigeria proud with their superlative performances. Not just sparingly, but at almost every international athletics events they attended, some of these great athletes were discovered from the grassroots level before making a name for themselves at the international level.
Atlanta 1996 silver medallist, Fatima Yusuf-Olukoju, believes that the country has forgotten to discover athletes from the grassroots.
In a post on her Facebook page, she wrote: “In Nigeria we don’t have any programme that discovers and develops young talents. The 400m is not for old people. You must be young enough to run it. In 1996 Olympics, we had three people run in the semifinal, two in the final and one came third. It hurts to hear one of the commentators say, ‘Nigerians are not known for this event’ during the early rounds of the women’s 400m in Rio.”
Barcelona 1992 bronze medalist, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, told CNN that the present crop of athletes in the country were not motivated enough to win medals for the country, hence the general drop in the standard of athletics in Nigeria.
“Sports development is the key of any athletics federation anywhere in the world,” said the former sprinter and two-time Olympic bronze medalist. “If you don’t have that youth/junior category that eventually metamorphosizes into the élite … once that circle is broken, you create a void that could last years. That’s exactly what happened to Nigerian athletics.” “But all I know is that our athletes abroad and at home need more motivation to excel. Those abroad should put up performances that the home-based ones will have to pursue to bring out the best in them for the good of the country.”
The next Olympic Games will be hosted in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, something which gives the sports minister and federations managing the different sports in the country a great time to plan ahead and correct the wrongs of 2016, if they want the team to win not just a medal but gold medals at the Olympics.