Nigeria’s poor outing at the Rio Olympic Games has triggered a debate over what should be done to improve the country’s fortune in sporting events. ADEYINKA ADEDIPE takes a look at Team Nigeria’s performance in Brazil and writes that the slide will continue unless the government, corporate organisations and other stakeholders rise ways to rescue the situation.
The story of Nigeria’s failure at the 31st edition of the Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil is a familiar one. Only the die-hard optimists and unrepentant patriots would have expected a different outcome considering the shoddy build-up to the Games. Those who expected a spectacular performance from Team Nigeria in Rio got it all wrong. They allowed patriotism, rather than reality, to override their sense of judgment.
For the umpteenth time, the woeful performance of Nigeria at a major championship has sparked debate over what should be done to get sports on the right track. It took the heroic effort of the Dream Team to win a bronze – the country’s only consolation medal at the games where 74 athletes took part. Apart from the Dream Team’s feat, table tennis star Aruna Quadri became the first African to play in the quarter finals of the Games, losing to the eventual winner, China’s Ma Long.
In a competition where Nigeria struggled to make a mark, countries like Fiji Island, Kosovo, Jordan, Singapore and Tajikistan won their first gold medals. Expectedly, their compatriots back home celebrated the feat of their ‘worthy’ ambassadors.
It is disheartening, as well as baffling that Nigeria has not been able to build on the record it set at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 where it won two gold medals – one from the Dream Team, led by iconic player Kanu Nwankwo and the other by Chioma Ajunwa, whose epic performance in the long jump event reverberated all over the world.
The once-in-a-life-time jump endeared Ajunwa to athletics buffs and fans alike.
Since recording its best performance in Atlanta 20 years ago, it has been a free fall for Nigeria at the Olympic Games, culminating in the country’s inability to win any medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games amid great expectation.
The administrators, who presided over the London debacle, promised that efforts would be done to ensure that the country bounced from that poor outing to post a good outing in Rio. That ambitious dream may be for the future as the curtain has dropped on the Rio Olympics with Nigerian, once again, failing to shine on the world stage in Brazil.
The proverbial drawing board seems not to be working for the country as its contingents to the Olympics have continued to struggle at every edition of the games. So, what could be done to arrest the situation? To some, the problems being faced by the country in sports is peculiar to it. They believe a close look into the British model of sports development may be helpful.
The British model
For Britain, the Rio Olympic was a fiesta like never before. The country has its best medals haul in 108 years, coming second on the medal table behind the United States of America (USA). The United Kingdom (UK) has set a record as the only host nation to win more medals at the next Olympics.
Twenty years ago, Britain finished 36th on the Atlanta Olympics medal’s table. Its entire contingents had a gold medal to show for their participation. Today, the story has changed. It is a story of remarkable transformation. As that nadir was being reached back in 1996, the most pivotal change of all had already taken place.
The advent of the National Lottery in 1994, and the decision of John Major’s struggling government to allocate significant streams of its revenue to elite Olympic sport, set in motion an unprecedented funding spree in British sport. From a paltry £5 million per year before Atlanta, UK sport’s spending shot to £54 million by Sydney 2000, where Britain won 28 medals to clinch the 10th position on the medal table. By 2012, when it hosted the Games in London, Britain came third with 65 medals. By then, its sport’s spending had climbed to £264 million. Between 2013 and 2017, almost £350 million in public funds would have been disbursed on Olympic and Paralympic sports. It has reinvigorated some sports and altered others beyond recognition.
The financial boost rubbed off as British athletes dominated sports in which they hitherto had no comparative advantage. Besides proper funding, other details on how to make an athlete perform optimally were taken care of.
In the build-up to these Olympics, a PhD student at the English Institute of Sport, Luke Gupta, examined the sleep quality of more than 400 elite Great Britain athletes, looking at the duration of their average sleep, issues around deprivation and the individual athletes’ perception of their sleep quality.
His findings resulted in an upgrading of the ‘sleep environment’ in the Team GB boxing training base in Sheffield – 37 single beds replaced by 33 double and four extra-long singles; sheets, duvets and pillows switched to breathable, quick drying fabrics; materials selected to create a hypo-allergenic barrier to allergens in each bedroom.
The others sports were also accorded attention. Hence, it was not a surprise that Britain dominated cycling, had a gold medalist in swimming, a decent performance in boxing and also dominated the rowing event. Its athletes were also visible in other events.
In Rio, 129 different British athletes have won an Olympic medal and have eclipsed the likes of China, Russia and Australia who are power house in world sports. We have got the talent in this country, and we know we can recruit and keep the very best coaches, sports scientists and sports medics,” says Nicholl.
It is an intimidating thought for Britain’s competitors. After two decades of consistent improvement, Rio may not even represent the peak.
With the latest failure staring all in the face, it is clear that Nigeria needs to stem the tide by taking the necessary steps that will turn-around its fortunes in sports. Like Britain, Nigeria is blessed with an array of talents that can excel at international competitions. But they need the tutelage of top-rated coaches, while technocrats should be allowed to run sports in the country instead as against the present arrangement where sports is at the mercy of bureaucrats, whose major concerns are pecuniary gains.
Some enthusiasts have canvassed the restoration of the National Sports Commission (NSC) and its administration independent of the Youth Ministry. This school of thought argue that under the NSC, sports thrived as technocrats and coaches fashioned out ways to make sure that athletes get the best support they need to excel at international events. They believe that with concerted efforts, the noticeable hiccups under the NSC could be fine-tuned to get the desired effect.
Besides, the government must provide funds or create an enabling environment for the NSC to make money and become about 80 per cent self-reliant, with the government providing the 20 per cent balance.
Sport, according to analysts, is a specialised sector and it is high time the government started appointing people with track record in sport’s administration as ministers. Most of the ministers appointed in the past lacked the wherewithal to successfully run the sector. The humble ones learned on the job but those with bloated ego run sports like private enclave and the country paid for the wrong choices.
The analysts suggest the appointment of former athletes who are into sports’ administration to revitalise the sector. The former Director-General of NSC, Alhassan Yakmut, was a former volleyball player and he brought his wealth of experience to bear when he guided Nigeria to second place finish at the African Games in Congo Brazzaville last year, the first time the country attained such feat. Dr Amos Adamu, may have had his flaws when he held the forte as the NSC director-general but he knew how to source the needed funds to prepare athletes for major championships.
The National Sport Lottery should be revived and be made to serve the purpose for which it was established. It was once in existence but ran into stormy waters. Chief Kola Diasi ran the lottery when it started in 2004, using loans procured from the defunct Fountain Trust Bank. He, however, could not secure the government’s necessary backing. The funds realised from this lottery should have been ploughed into sports’ funding just like Britain has done. But it was not so and the idea died an untimely death.
The government, analysts argue, can repackage the idea or direct the National Lottery to support sports with its funds. This, according to them, will ensure funds’ flow for sports’ development with elite athletes also benefitting from the funds to enable them prepare for championships.
heads as clog
Sports Federations heads have not helped development in the sector with many of them after personal aggrandizement. There was a former chairman of a federation who threw out a sponsor without getting a replacement. He struggled to administer till he was kicked out. His successor battled without success to get a sponsor. The sports, under that particular federation, are worse-off today as they struggle to attend international competitions. The federation was recently banned because it could not pay its affiliation fees. For years, it has not run a national league but it recently held a national open championship in one of the northern states.
Most of the federations lack ideas and their inability to attract sponsors is adversely affecting their various sports. Without sponsors, it is difficult and almost impossible to organise competitions. In-fighting and intrigues among board members have also hindered the progress of these sports. Rather than evolve plans to bring the best out of their athletes, they run after what they can gain financially.
With caps in hand, they often run to the government for bailouts, which they hardly get. They also lack financial muscle to run the federations, leaving many to wonder how they get into the position. Sports, such as handball, volleyball and others that were vibrant in the past have since gone under.
The secretaries are not better neither. They lack the knowledge on how to raise fund outside the government circle. They are all civil servants and can never move the federation forward with the bureaucratic mentality.
Toronto Raptor’s General Manger, Masai Ujiri, who was in the country last week for the Nestle Milo/Giant of Africa Top 50 Basketball Camp, wondered how Nigerian athletes would excel at international competition training in dilapidated facilities.
He lashed out at the authorities for the deplorable state of facilities, describing the situation as embarrassing. Ujiri, a former D’Tiger player and the founder of the Giant of Africa Top 50 Basketball Camp, described as disheartening the lack of attention to facilities.