WHEN Nigeria returned from the London 2012 Olympic Games without a single medal, the refrain among the country’s sports administrators was that the lessons of the bad outing would serve the nation well going forward. Never again was the general cry from the Nigerian public, who felt that the country, with a youth population of over 70 million, deserved better than a barren show at the world’s biggest stage.
The London 2012 Olympic Games was the first competition since the 1988 games in Seoul that Nigeria would participate in without winning a single medal.
Following the outcry that trailed the poor performance, then President, Goodluck Jonathan, convened a sports summit where all the experts pointed at poor preparation and low morale as the reasons for the country’s shameful performance in London.
After that summit, the general consensus was that for Nigeria to get it right again, the country must drop the fire brigade approach to preparations for major competitions. There was also the agreement that preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games would start immediately, with the many youth programmes lined up by the National Sports Commission (NSC) nurtured to produce champions in Rio.
However, shortly after the summit, the then Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, was removed from office over political reasons. And his successor, Tammy Danagogo, rather than building on the programmes of his predecessor, went about dismantling the paths to success laid by the ‘experts’ at the summit.
First to go was the Nigerian Academicals Sports Committee (NASCOM), which was supposed to champion the youth development programme expected to lead the country to the podium in subsequent international competitions.
Following that was the total blackout of the majority of the federations from international competitions, which were supposed to help the athletes gauge their standard, as well as ease the upcoming stars on to the world stage.
The reason for the neglect of the federations was lack of funds, but surprisingly, the resources always managed to be available whenever football had any programme.
With the exit of the Jonathan administration, most of the sports federations heaved a sigh of relief, believing that the new regime would treat all the federations equally, especially with the Rio 2016 Olympics less than a year to go.
However, such expectations have been tempered by the continued apathy to the needs of the Nigerian sports in an Olympic year.
To feature at the Olympic Games, athletes are expected to go through qualifiers with their mates from other countries. That means any athlete or team that failed at the qualifiers will not be in Rio.
Absence from the qualifiers means that the athlete or team has automatically been ruled out of the games. And so it has emerged that Nigeria may not feature in some of its core events due to its athletes’ inability to participate in some championships that served as qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics.
One of such sports is weightlifting, which began its quest to make the Rio train late due to lack of funds. Because the weightlifting team could not attend some of the major championships of 2014 and 2015, the team has just one championship slated for South Africa this year to either pass or fail to make the trip to Rio.
The two-man team recently competed in a championship held between November 20 and 28 in Houston, U.S, but they could not pick the ticket due to what some officials described as inadequate preparation.
A board member of the Nigeria Weightlifting Federation, George Aluo, told The Guardian that preparation for the event was hampered by the NSC’s late response to its proposals for the championship.
He also noted that four weightlifters, comprising two male and two female athletes, started preparations for the qualifiers, but only two were approved by the NSC.
“Rather than not having a representative at all because of insufficient funds to bankroll a complete team, it was better for the two lifters, Mariam Usman and Victoria Adesanmi, to go and compete at the event,’’ he said.
He added: “Our last hope is the championship in South Africa and we believe they will succeed because at the last African Games in Congo, they won the gold medals in their different categories.”
One of the major complaints of the sports federations is their difficulty in getting anything approved by the Youth and Sports Ministry.
Explaining the difficulties some of the federations are facing, Abuja-based journalist, Adewale Ajayi, said, “the single account policy of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration now means all money coming out of the sector must go through the usual bureaucratic bottlenecks that come with the normal ministry setting.
“That is hampering preparation for the Olympics. This is what affected the Hockey Federation, which arrived in South Africa on the opening day of the Hockey Nations Cup and returned with tales of woe.
“What about the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation and the Shooting federation of Nigeria both of whom have backed out of proposed foreign tours to prepare their teams for the Rio Olympic Games?”
The Nigeria Wrestling Federation, which was tipped to lead Nigeria’s charge for medals in Rio, is now relying on only one athlete, Odunayo Adekuoroye, for everything it aims to achieve at the 2016 Olympics.
Adekuoroye recently represented Nigeria at the 2015 Senior World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., where she won a bronze medal. That feat gave her the Rio 2016 Olympics ticket.
She also won in the Team Mumbai squad that won the inaugural Pro Wrestling League in India last year.
Adekuoroye’s achievements were celebrated by officials of the wrestling federation, who, however, lamented that outside the young lady, the country had no other wrestler to present to the world.
According to the Nigeria Wrestling Federation President, Daniel Igali, “sadly, Adekuoroye is the only athlete, who has had some preparations towards the Olympics. Other wrestlers who were supposed to attend a tournament in Brazil last month were sent back home due to supposed lack of funds.”
Igali, who is also the chairman, Technical and Development Commission of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC), while complaining about the preferential treatment given to some sports over others when it comes to getting ready for major championships, said, “The sports authorities feel that the money that could have been used to send athletes for training in preparation for Olympics to bring glory to the country can better be used for an irrigation project.
“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.”
Lamenting the ‘sorry state’ of Nigerian sports, a hockey federation official, who pleaded anonymity, said the country would continue to get it wrong until it starts looking at the pedigree and mentality of people before appointing them to manage the sports sector.
According to him, “what we have been served over the years are people who go around sports facilities, play to the gallery and then run to identify with football to the detriment of other sports.
“The coming of Solomon Dalung gave us the impression that we may have a different minister, who will leave no stone unturned in getting sports back to its former exalted position. He went round the facilities and said all the good things. But now, where is he?
“He went to Rwanda to clap for the football team, while we are here looking for how to get money for our programmes. What it means is that every other thing will take a back seat until he comes back to Nigeria.
“We must change the way we prepare for events if we desire better results in international competitions.”
However, while federations’ officials are lamenting the ‘neglect’ of their events by the NSC, the Commission’s Director General, Alhassan Yakmut, says there is no cause for alarm.
Yakmut insists that the NSC has been working round the clock to ensure that Nigeria is ready for the challenges of the Olympics.
He said in a recent interview that, “a lot of ground work is being done but at this stage you cannot pin down an athlete to one camp. It is only those who are preparing for qualifiers like boxing, taekwondo and the remaining wrestlers and weightlifters who have their African qualifiers in February and April that we are going to put in camp.
“So what we are doing now is trying to identify the transit camps from where our athletes will operate. Transit camps in the sense that we need where they will operate outside Nigeria and from there move to Rio.”
During the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, there were plans for a dedicated account, where such sectors could go to source for funds without waiting for the passage of the yearly budget.
The idea, initiated by the then Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, would have given the sports sector the leeway to plan its programmes without waiting for the federal budget. But that idea seems to have been discarded by the current regime.
To avoid the perennial complaint of inadequate funding by the federations, a former president of the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation (NTF), Jonathan Nnaji, posits that the enactment of a Sports Endowment Fund law would reposition sports in the country.
He advocates a change in the way sports are being funded if Nigeria must regain its position among the elite countries of world sports.
Nnaji told a gathering of journalists recently, “the kind of treatment we get from the National Sports Commission (NSC) is usually a problem.
“Usually, it is not their fault because they make money available to sports federation for competitions based on when the funds are available to them.
“The problem we have in this country is that funds for Olympics and other competitions come in the year of the Games, while other countries receive theirs a year ahead.
“This is not too good for our preparation and participation at the Olympics and unless it is restructured, we will keep having challenges with our preparations for competitions.
“The National Assembly should pass a law that a certain amount of money be made available every year for Olympic Games’ preparation.”
He believes that Nigerian sportsmen will start dominating their events when they begin their training at the same time with their peers from other parts of the world. He added that the law would provide for intensive sports development through the provision of
sporting facilities and training of sportsmen and women if enacted.