Sports can remake Nigeria and restore its battered image. The preparation for Paris must start immediately. A combination of the Jamaican and American collegiate scholarship system is what can help us find, nurture and field talents. The sprinters of Jamaica and the distance runners of Kenya are not accidents of geography. They are a product of nurture, consistency, practice, of demography, societal support…
Yet again, the Nigerian contingent at the 32nd Olympiad had another disastrous outing in Japan. It was an entirely predictable outcome, given Nigeria’s inglorious Olympic history. So far, Nigeria has won an unimpressive tally of twenty seven medals in its 60-year history of participation in the Olympics. Everything that could go wrong with Nigeria’s participation in the Tokyo Olympics went wrong. From failure to observe the phased testing protocol for athletes, to doping issues, the embarrassing $2.7 millon Puma kits sponsorship scandal involving the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) officials, and the sloppy organisation by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. We cannot blame these woeful performances on the corruption of sports administration alone. As always, rank impunity, mediocrity and our fire brigade approach to issues make it difficult to compete on the world stage. How is Jamaica, a country of less than three million people, able to dominate the tracks, while Nigeria, with a seam bursting population of two hundred million, falter? The answer lies in preparation, nurturing and consistency.
For its sports programme, Jamaica does not fight fires, the country provides the platform for budding athletes to succeed in athletics right from the primary school. The path to mounting the rostrum on the world stage is prepared through “the Champs” competition, which is for boys and girls in secondary schools across the country. For the Jamaicans proudly wearing their country’s jersey in the Olympics and World Championships, the Champs was where they all started. The competition is one of the biggest national high school contests in the world. Since 1910, the Champs has been an annual event held over four days at Kingston’s National Stadium. Scouts go to the event to recruit athletes with the highest potentials of becoming future champions. The Jamaican government provides support and citizens buy tickets in their thousands to watch the games, while television crews do live broadcasts of the games for viewers on national television.
Almost the same thing obtains in the United States. Since the 1920s, athletics has become a fixture of total education in American high schools. In every school, the sports programme has a variety of competitive options for male and female students. Most schools make it mandatory for students to clock on a certain number of sports hours as a requirement for graduation. While the programme allows for talents to be discovered, educators know the benefit of sports for skills in team building, fitness, social relationships, leadership, community representation, the success mindset and time management. At an age when young people are trying to find themselves, develop a sense of self, and navigate their paths in life, athletics lends them an outlet for the expression of their emotions and opportunities for interacting with coaches, peers, and mentors, while they struggle to understand, develop and utilise their talents and abilities.
We cannot live in sin and hope for God’s abundant grace. What is wrong with our education system is what is wrong with our sports. No country will grow talent for us. We have to breed, nurture, reward and retain talent.
In Nigeria, with the proliferation of private schools without the facilities for sports, the lack of funding and low standards, competitive sports among secondary schools are increasingly rare. Without group competition and similar activities, many young people are unable to learn skills that foster a solid work ethic, and reward determination, self-reliance, team building, practice, self-motivation, discipline, and personal responsibility.
We cannot live in sin and hope for God’s abundant grace. What is wrong with our education system is what is wrong with our sports. No country will grow talent for us. We have to breed, nurture, reward and retain talent. I heard many American athletes speak to sports journalists that they plan to take a month break and then start training for the Paris Olympics in 2024. Swimmers in America are known to spend up to eight hours in the pool everyday, preparing for competition. It sometimes takes a world class athlete a year to gain a second in races and a fraction of a second determines the winner. Winning is borne out of talent nurtured by practice and consistency.
Countries that have excelled in sports do not have patronage driven sports administration bodies and they do not administer neglect. In the United States, for example, collegiate athletics feeds international competitive sports.
Countries that have excelled in sports do not have patronage driven sports administration bodies and they do not administer neglect. In the United States, for example, collegiate athletics feeds international competitive sports. Intercollegiate athletic excellence is possible because every school and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) uphold “gender equity, sportsmanship and ethical conduct, sound academic standards, nondiscrimination, diversity within governance, rules compliance, amateurism, competitive equity, recruiting, eligibility, financial aid, playing and practice seasons, postseason competition and contests sponsored by non-collegiate organizations, and the economy of athletic program operations to ensure fair play and equality throughout all college athletic programs and associations.”
Sports can remake Nigeria and restore its battered image. The preparation for Paris must start immediately. A combination of the Jamaican and American collegiate scholarship system is what can help us find, nurture and field talents. The sprinters of Jamaica and the distance runners of Kenya are not accidents of geography. They are a product of nurture, consistency, practice, of demography, societal support, economics and folkloric drive to compete and win. We can do it.
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