It has been a year of mixed fortunes in sports but especially in the month of August, we have witnessed the very high and the lowest of lows in basketball and athletics.
The end of the month provided a clear window on the way sports is being run in the country as against what it should be.
All things in life in this present age including sports have gone scientific but the Nigerian sports administrator still continues to hinge the ability to win or lose on hope – nay prayers!
Nigeria went to the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, hoping to pull off a miracle, which unfortunately (fortunately if you are on my side of the fence) did not happen and for the second consecutive championship, the Nigerian contingent came home with their tails between their legs.
It was a shamble, as the gamble to China did not pay off. What we witnessed was Kenya winning the championship by winning gold in events that were thought to be for Nigerians to win. When did Kenya start fielding athletes for the 400m, not to talk of the 400m hurdles? When did they start throwing Javelin? Well, they won gold medals in these two events – which made it seven gold medals and the overall championship winner.
Since 1993, Nigeria has won a total of eight medals – four silver and four bronze medals, which for a country of the stature and population, these are abysmal returns.
Science entails that experiments are performed, tweaked and performed again. And just like Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”
The truth is that the Nigerian sport official has gotten to the point of induced complacency encumbered with a big ego coupled with the fact of a belief that prayers at the last minute will make things happen. So where does that leave us?
What has happened?
I hope that you were not fooled by the victory of the men’s national basketball team triumph at the 2015 AfroBasketball Championship that they won for the first time last weekend.
It was not the result of any hard work on the part of the Nigerian administrators – it was a mirror of what was happening in athletics when we ruled Africa. Those players were schooled and play in the USA and in Europe. They were coached, trained and conditioned for the game abroad. We just assembled them at the right time and they gave us victory. The successes of athletes like Chidi Imoh, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya and the others were because they were well trained abroad!
What is happening?
We tried to go back to that format but in a lopsided way. Instead of fishing out talents that were exported to American schools in the 80s, we tried to go to America to find ready-made materials but it did not work. If some of the athletes that we got to compete for the country were first grade, they would have been converted by the U.S. So invariably, the talents (?) that we thought we got our hands on were not the elite athletes that can compete on the global stage. Yes, they will win some medals at the coming All Africa Games but they will never be of world standard.
What will happen…
If we continue at the rate we are going without quickly undergoing a fundamental change and shift, then the years ahead will become known for more painful disappointments as Nigerians will need to adjust to the fact that all we have within our midst are average athletes. We are already seeing the advent of this phenomenon in our football, where our best now play outside the top five leagues in the world.
What should happen…
It is time to go back to the laboratory where experiments are performed before the perfect formula is concocted. If we get the lab right, then there will be a considerable upsurge in performance. Let us take a look at African countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.
What have they done and how did they get their processes right?
Filbert Bayi, a former 1,500m world record holder from Tanzania told Quartz that Kenya will continue to produce world-class athletes because they have, “A good system that scouts athletes from primary and secondary schools all the way to clubs.”
And Jackie Lebo, a sports writer and film-maker, defined the Kenyan way most aptly, “If this is something you are doing and are managed by high level people, it means you are competing at the highest level.”
So could the reason for Nigeria’s demise in athletics and other sports be because of the low caliber people that are managing it?
I rest my case here but you can send me your thoughts!