Expectedly the blame game over the country’s dismal performance at the London 2012 Olympics has stopped. Nigerian legions of sports lovers are now focused on the African Cup of Nations which opens in the land of Nelson Mandela in a few days time. Will there be another blame game at the end of South Africa 2013 where the Super Eagles will lock horns with their counterparts from across the continent?
Stephen Keshi and his boys will do themselves a world of good by putting up an above par outing if they don’t want to incur the wrath of Nigerians. A good outing will also prevent them from being enmeshed in the blame game. The blame game is one that Nigerians know how to play well especially after a major failure at an international competition.
To be sure the debate over the comprehensive defeat that Nigeria suffered during the Olympic Games in London is a necessary one. We should ask ourselves some hard question as to why the “giant” of Africa was reduced to a mere Lilliputian at such an important global stage. We even failed to get the normal consolatory bronze which could have assuaged the wounded ego of our countrymen all over the world. Before our very eyes Granada, that tiny county of just over 476,000 inhabitants, through Kirani James, won the 400 meters gold medal. Interestingly Nigeria used to be a dominant force in the quarter miles through the likes of Innocent Egbunike, Sunday Uti, Fatimah Yusuf, Falilat Ogunkoya and the late Sunday Bada. We even have a couple of Olympic medals to show for our excellence in that field in the past.Other continental rivals such as Kenya, South Africa, Morocco and Egypt had their time on the Olympic medal dais in London while war torn Afghanistan also managed to win a bronze medal. For Nigeria it was a no show and a climb down from the commanding height of the Atlanta 1996 Games where we came back with two solid gold medals. Therefore Nigerians who see sports as a breath of fresh air and a welcome diversion from the political ,economic and security challenges bedeviling the country were livid when Nigeria athletes came back from London empty handed.
Of course officials of the Federal Ministry of sports and the National Sports Commission and the Nigerian Olympics Committee are inexcusable in the recurrent failures of the past years. They are directly and vicariously liable for presenting a team that lacked character and depth and which could not hold its own in London. But the truth of the matter is that what happened in London was the fruit of years of neglect and lack of planning. In the Atlanta Games in 1996, Chioma Ajunwa won the gold medal in the women long jump event. What did we do thereafter? Nothing. After Ajunwa’s feat we should have built pits for long jump event all over the country. Ajunwa should have been taken round the country to begin a process of recruiting future athletes that would see Nigeria dominating that event at the global level just like the East Africans have become the champions of long distance races.
We simply failed to build on our past exploits in football, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and the sprints. Why have we not been able to build on the achievements of Peter konyegwachie, David Izonritei, in boxing and Falilat Ogunkoya, Mary Onyali Omagbemi, Gloria Alozie, Chidi Imoh, Davidson Ezinwa, Olapade Adenekan, and Enefiok Udo-Obong in Athletics? These men and women held their own in past Olympics Games and won respect for self and motherland.
Goodluck Jonathan, the President of the Federal Republic, from all indication is aware that engaging in the usual blame game would not take Nigerian sports out of the woods. He saw the failure in London as an opportunity to critically examine what has gone wrong and thereafter put the necessary structure in place in order to chart the way forward. This is what President Jonathan had done through the Presidential Sports summit, the first of its kind in Nigeria. All stakeholders met with Mr. President after the London debacle and at the end of the summit a blueprint for the development of sports in the country was agreed on.
And the way forward is for Mr. Bolaji Abdulahi, the minister of sports and his technical officials to faithfully implement the decisions of the sports summit and start the rebuilding process. We do not need a new cook who will start all over again to garnish a spoilt stew. Abdulahi by now knows more than enough to allow him put the troubled House of sports in order. He should repeat the excellence recorded when he was minister of Youth at his current duty post. And he has what it takes to excel and put Sports in the country on the right footing. He also has the presidential might behind him and the blueprint generated from the sports summit held in Aso Rock. Mr. Abdulahi has his job cut out for him as the summit unraveled the causes of the London debacle and the slide of the country in various competitions. It also generated a road map that will determine and enhance Nigeria successful participation in the Olympics and other similar competitions.
Time has come to reduce the country participation at such competitions to areas of her core competences. Why are we not concentrating on the sprints and the short distances races? Why are we not building a new crop of athletes in Triple and Long jumps, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and boxing? Why do we keep presenting athletes for table tennis, basketball and other sports that we seem not to have the winning formula at the global level? We need to participate in events that we have comparative advantage in.
After scientifically determining those sports where we seem to have the winning edge, like weightlifting, sprints, quarter miles, boxing, wrestling and football, everything should be done to build a new crop of athletes who should be trained at home and abroad under a carefully monitored program supervised by a task force made up of sound technical experts in requisite field of sports. It is time for the aging athletes who have represented Nigeria in more repeatedly and no longer have the strength and the technical competence to bow out and make way for the young ones. Mr. Abdulahi must ensure that the camps for the identified sports should be opened at least 12 months ahead of major competitions. Fire brigade approach to preparation for major competitions should belong to the past as recommended by the Presidential sports summit.
It is not just enough for Nigeria to participate in competitions. Winning is as important as participation. And winning takes planning. Sport is now scientific and the rudimentary approach to training and development of athletes should be jettisoned in Nigeria if we want to make any headway. That was the purpose of the presidential summit. According to Sani Ndanusa , the President of the Nigerian Olympic Committee, and one of the participants at the summit , “It is the first time we are seeing this kind of expression of political will to move our sports forward. I was also happy that for the first time sports was discussed as an economic issue just like power and infrastructure.”
This is the time to start the implementation of the blueprint from Aso Rock. All that is needed is a process of specialization that will lead to the discovery, training and retraining of athletes in areas identified as our core competence. It is not just enough to herd athletes together just weeks to a competition and embark on training tours while our opponents had put in two to three years of well structured build up programs. There cannot be any substitute for good planning and well structured program. This is the time to put the house of sports in order and chart a way forward.
How well the sports blue print from Aso Rock is working, at least in the short term, will be seen at the end of South Africa 2012 via the performance of the Super Eagles.
Adelaja Adebanjo contributed this piece from Ijebu Ode and can be reached via