By Tunde Eleduni
Despite being sure bets for medals in London, Nigerian special athletes to the 2012 London Paralympic Games, which officially gets underway Wednesday failed to command the deserved attention many believe they rightly deserve.
The country’s 29- man team will be partaking in four events which are power-lifting (16 athletes), athletics (nine), table tennis (two) and wheelchair tennis (two).
Unlike the pomp and pageantry that greeted the departure of the able-bodied athlete that went on to fumble in London, same cannot be said of the physically challenged athletes who failed to get any attention from the media, corporate world and the Nigerian authorities.
Tajudeen Ganiyu, a wheel chair tennis player, who failed to make the cut to London, told PREMIUM TIMES that the bias against physically challenged people is not just in sports.
“I will be lying if I say I’m surprised about what is happening, we the physically challenged suffer a lot of discrimination, the media, corporate bodies and the government usually treat us as second class citizens which is not fair at all” Ganiyu lamented.
According to him, he is sure that his colleagues in London will come with all shades of medals, gold, silver and bronze but what he is not sure of his how these medals will be appreciated.
“Of course they will not come back home empty handed but will the country appreciate their efforts?” Ganiyu queried.
Rightly put. The special athletes, despite the constraints, face have continually churned out breath-taking performances on the global stage.
Some of them still hold world records in their various events, as the other athletes from respected countries like the United States and China are left to play catch up.
Nigeria made her Paralympic Games debut at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona where only six male athletes represented the country and came back with three gold medals
Nigeria has participated in every subsequent edition of the Summer Paralympics, winning a total of 22 gold medals, 11 silver, and 12 bronze.
For the able-bodied athletes, the country has only managed a paltry 3 gold medals in its 60 years of competing.
Coach of the Nigeria wheelchair team at the London 2012 Paralympics, Frank Tamena, before departing Nigeria, told reporters he was hoping to lead his wards to the medals range at the games despite strong opposition in their way.
Nigeria will be represented in the event by Alex Adewale and Wasiu Yusuf – two players who got their chance to be at the Games following their impressive performance at the World Team Cup in South Korea in May.
The team had lost to Germany and Australia but defeated highly-ranked Switzerland at the tournament.
Tamena, however, says his players have learnt their lessons and ready to overcome their weaknesses at the Paralympics.
“It was our first time to play at the World Team Cup even though the players had been in a number of international circuits before the tournament. The expectations were high so it was natural that the players were naive,” Tamena said.
“We’ve been able to work on the weaknesses we observed at the Korea tournament, so I believe they have nothing to fear but to win medals at the London Games.”
The Paralympics holds from August 29 to September 9 but the wheelchair tennis event starts on September 1.
On his part President of Nigeria Olympians Association, NOA, Henry Amike has also expressed optimism that the athletes come what may will get it right in London as he has told Nigerians to expect a better outing from Team Nigeria’s athletes to the2012 Paralympic Games.
“I have a feeling that Nigerian paralympic athletes to London 2012 Paralympic Games would bring back happy moments to Nigerian sports fans homes when the Games begin on Wednesday.
“With the caliber of athletes that would represent us in London, I have no doubt that they would win medals for the country in London, unlike, the supposedly, able athletes that were unable to win us medals at the Olympics.”