Twenty years ago at the magnificent Olympic Stadium in the City of Atlanta Georgia, United States of America, Chioma Ajunwa leapt to history and glory by winning the country’s first ever Gold Medal at an Olympic Games. Some days after her remarkable feat in the long jump event, the Nigerian Under-23 team, led by the mercurial Kanu Nwankwo, subdued the best South America could offer in Mexico to win the Gold medal of the football event for Nigeria. That feat earned the team its current sobriquet, the Dream Team. A couple of silver and bronze medals at the same Game made the outing at the Centenary Olympics Nigeria best ever. Nigeria simply walked tall and stamped its imprimatur of sporting excellence on the games.
But as the Games of the 2016 Olympics open in Rio Brazil on August 5, not even the most incurable optimist is sanguine of one single medal for Nigeria. And for pundits who have followed the country’s riotous preparation, their verdict is that the Rio Games will be another disastrous outing just like the last one in London in 2012 when the country’s contingent got what the Yorubas usually describe as BLLB, Bose Lo Lose Bo , which aptly captures a situation when a venture yields no result or dividend and one comes back empty handed without making any impact.
Not that Nigeria does not have spectacular athletes who can hold their own among their peers on the World Stage. After all Blessing Okagbare has shown consistency on the track and beaten some of the World’s best in her field repeatedly. Her compatriot, Ese Brume, is pushing herself to the limit in order to recreate Ajunwa’s 1996 feat in the long jump event. And the Dream Team Squad has enough players with the firepower to demolish Japan, Sweden and Colombia in the Preliminary stages and go all the way, like the Dream Team Class of 1996, when hostilities begin.
However the Riotous Road the athletes are being forced to ply to Rio by Nigeria’s sports managers will make a meaningful impact in Brazil almost impossible. Take for instance the debilitating blow dealt the Dream Team by the Sports Ministry. Samson Siasia, the coach of the Nigerian Under-23 side after waiting for ages without any concrete plan to ensure that his wards get ready to play in the football event of the games made arrangement and took the lads to America for a training tour. But with no support from the Government through the Sports Ministry and the Nigerian Football Federation things became tough and some Nigerians living in America came to the rescue of the players and sent an SOS to the sports ministry. Hear the response of Sports Minister Solomon
When the media confronted him on the plight of the players, Dalung said, “The issue of our U- 23 National team suffering in the United States of America is news to me. In fact I am hearing it from you (the media) for the first time. They (Nigeria U23) didn’t tell us what they were there for and who took them there. The question is who took them there? And what are they there for? Because they are U23 national team, they went to the US and they are having problems, does that become our business? If they are throwing them out of the hotel then they should meet who took them there.”
This is not how to treat athletes doing their best to bring honour to the fatherland. Of course they may have moved on but the psychological damage to the players and the coach will not heal before the Games of the Olympiad which begins in the City of Rio Brazil on August 5. They know that they do not have the full backing of their country sports managers in their quest for honours in Brazil.
Apart from the Dream Team other athletes have also been subjected to the worst of treatment the types never seen before in the build up to such a big event. Some weeks back an official of the Federal Ministry of Sports sent an email sent to some of the athletes asking them to find their way to Rio as the ministry was having difficulty in sourcing flight tickets for them. Some of the athletes began to solicit for help on the social media and through other means. Following spate of criticism that greeted the directive the ministry backed down and said it would make arrangement for the athletes and pay their way to Rio.
Enefiok Udo-Obong, who won Gold medal for self and country at the Sydney 2000 Games, said the shoddy treatment meted to the athletes and riotous travel arrangement and late arrival in Rio would negatively impact on the performance of the contingent. “Take the table tennis team, as an example. They will arrive in Rio on August 4, attend the opening ceremony on August 5 and start competing on August 6. This means they will have no time to train in Rio before playing their matches,” Udo-Obong said.
Indeed the country has never had it this bad when it comes to preparing for the Olympics Games. The preparation for the Rio Games has been a tale of bungling, sheer lack of initiative and dereliction of duties. Funds for the Games only came some three weeks to the commencement of the games which made any meaningful preparation impossible. Indeed while other countries were perfecting strategies and giving the athletes the best of training their Nigerian counterparts were stranded at various local camps with reports of lack of food , medicine and inadequate facilities. Indeed there were reports that some of the athletes who out of sheer doggedness decided to train and camp at the National Stadium survived through the benevolence of some kind hearted patrons of sports who supplied them food and other essentials. The leadership of the Ministry also made it clear that it was not in support of any specialized training for the athletes outside the country.
And those who orchestrated the bungling from the top want the contingent to return from Rio with at least 15 medals . To Olympian Udo-Obong this is sheer day dreaming. Hear him, “ We should be realistic. The question should be, ‘are we prepared to challenge the best athletes in the world? The answer is no. I am not trying to put the minister down, but winning medals is not something you wish to accomplish. You must work towards it.”
Segun Toriola, African most decorated Olympian, having represented Nigerian in Table Tennis at seven different Olympic Games put the Nigerian situation in perspective, “I don’t think we have ever had it so bad like this even at the last Olympics in London, I don’t think any athlete can do much in Brazil, It is disheartening that nobody is even telling us (athletes) what is the next thing we need to do. I think nobody should expect much from the athletes because most of our opponents are rounding up their preparation now while we have not even started.”
And if they hit blank in Rio the Sports Managers already have a ready excuse for President Muhammadu Buhari. The Excuse is simply that the Olympics Games is not about winning medals but participation. Hear the Minister again, “The Olympics is not all about winning. It is a global event. That you participated in it alone is a gold medal.” Therefore President Muhammadu Buhari needs all the luck in the world for him to welcome back the athletes with medal of any hue.
So if by some stroke of luck and sheer willpower and doggedness some successes are achieved at the Rio Games by the athletes who were deprived of basic essentials on the Road to Rio, let no official take the glory. They failed the athletes and by extension the country when it mattered most.
Adebanjo, former Sports Editor of TELL Magazine who covered the 1996 and 2000 Olympics Games in Atlanta and Sydney sent this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org
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