Niger Republic, Burundi, Fiji Island, among others, finished ahead of Team Nigeria at the just concluded Rio Olympics.
The supposed giant of Africa and one-time leading sporting country, Nigeria ended in the 78th spot on the final medals table.
It could have been worse but all thanks to the solitary “golden” bronze won by the men’s football team whose personal resolve more than anything saved the country the embarrassment of another barren outing.
It is quite worrisome that while so much has changed in the world in the last four years, nothing seems to have changed for Nigeria especially as it pertains to her participation in the Olympics.
The same tunes that greeted the disastrous outing at the London Olympics are being replayed again, as the latest mantra has been early preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Only a die-hard optimist would have expected Team Nigeria to make appreciable impact at the 2016 Olympics even though the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, was hilariously making promises of five medals in Rio.
Many would recall how the last government reacted to the poor show in London.
An elaborate sports summit was held at the Aso Rock presidential villa and many white papers were delivered, all supposedly to help Nigeria get it right going forward.
However, as concisely put by the former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abudulahi, nothing in the build-up to the Rio Games suggested that Nigeria learnt any lesson from the poor show in London.
Mr. Abdullahi, looking in retrospect at what happened in London and how things panned out in the run up to the Rio Olympics, said Nigeria had failed to build on the lessons from her past mistakes.
“The minister of sports in South Africa, Fikile Mbalula, has been there since 2010. In sports, you do not get results overnight. It takes years of consistent planning, monitoring and execution. Unfortunately, in our country the institutions are not robust enough to withstand change in leadership. So, once you remove the minister, all his ideas and work go down with him,” the ex-minister lamented.
“Olympics is the highest sporting competition in the world. There is no next level. You should not expect to get world class results when you have not developed world-class systems and institutions,” he added.
The freefall in Nigeria sports is made more evident as it beats imagination that exactly 20 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta Games, Nigeria with 2 Gold, 1 Silver and 3 Bronze medals, was up and above Great Britain on the medals tables.
At the 1996 Games, Nigeria finished in 32nd position, while the Great Britain Team with just 1 Gold medal finished at the 36th spot on the overall medals table.
However, while Britain looked at their sporting issues head-on and religiously proffered solutions which they followed through, Nigeria simply went to sleep.
Britain’s effort has now seen them winning almost 100 gold medals since the Atlanta 1996 disappointment.
They won 11 gold medals in Sydney 2000 and then amassed nine gold medals four years later in Athens before increasing the tally to 19 gold in Beijing 2008.
As hosts, Britain won an all-time high of 29 mold Medals in London and now finished 2nd placed in Rio with 27 god medals and the biggest medal haul at 67 medals in total.
Conversely, Nigeria has won just a gold medal after the Atlanta 1996 heroics before hitting the baseline with no medal in London 2012 and now a solitary bronze in Rio.
When put on the spot in Rio, Mr. Dalung, like his predecessors, explained that the results in Rio could not have been different as they were a reflection of the level of preparations for the games.
“It takes a minimum plan of 4 years to prepare for an Olympics. We have seen that the likes of Divine Oduduru, Blessing Okagbare, Aruna Quadri, Efe Ajagba, Ese Brume, Chierika Ukogu and others would have made the desired impact if we had done the needful after the London 2012 misadventure. Success in sports no longer depends on skills and determination,” the minister told journalists in Rio.
He added: “Sports has gone scientific. It is time now to develop sports from the grassroots using sports science. It is not just to compete but we need to be in tune with modern day sports. We can also start to develop other sports like water sports, gymnastics, long distance races, etc.”
Mr. Dalung promised to establish a system that would enable early preparations for the next games.
“We will kick start our preparations for Tokyo 2020 when I meet with all federations’ presidents to do a review and submit extensive programs which will prepare us for Tokyo 2020,” the minister assured.
Already Africa’s fastest man ever, Olusoji Fasuba, has warned that the country should brace up itself for worse times if attention is not paid to junior athletes who should take over from the fading generation.
“If Okagbare says she is not running anymore, who do we have to step in her shoes, I will strongly advise that we start investing in the junior athletes because they are actually the future of the country if properly managed,” Fasuba said on Monday from his base in England in a television interview.
While the Rio Olympics has served very little to cheer for Nigeria, save for the outstanding performances of the likes of Aruna Quadri, Chierika Ukogu, and the flash of brilliance shown by Ese Brume and Divine Oduduru, the 31st Olympiad will nonetheless be remembered for a long time for many good reasons by the sporting world.