The Rio Olympics, Nigeria and the Sports Ministry

By Rotimi Fasan
The 2016 Rio Olympic Games took off to a slow start last week, precisely August 5. I didn’t watch the opening ceremony although I had looked forward to it. There was less to see by way of recorded broadcast of the opening activities even after the events.

The delay in the take off of the games couldn’t have come as a surprise to the rest of the world that had griped and worried themselves to distraction about Brazil’s apparently shoddy preparations. But Brazil looked on the brighter side of things and hoped to give the world one of the best organised games in recent times in spite of security and health concerns about the zika. As months drew into weeks, weeks drew into days and days into hours, so did anxiety mount about what Brazil had up its sleeves.

Siasia-Dalung
Siasia-Dalung

Nearly one week since the opening ceremonies all seems to be going on well, if not remarkably well. So far there has not been any major incidence to justify the worries that preceded the start of the games. As for security issues, perhaps the only remarkable thing is about the stray bullet that reawakened safety concerns. Save this and the case of the boxer who was allegedly detained for rape, there doesn’t seem to have been much to cause anxiety during these games.

But if Brazil’s preparation for the Olympic Games could be criticized for its inadequacy, at least that country could argue that it is hosting the world. But what can be said of Nigeria that has only its athletes to take care of? Our incompetence and lack of preparation for Rio was evident long before our athletes set their feet outside the shores of this country. Our preparations for major cultural, political and sports events have at the best of times been quite below par.

That we were out of our depths preparing for Rio was just too obvious from the way our athletes and the Sports Ministry bickered over what was to be the fate of the athletes attending the games. Who would be responsible for their upkeep- the country or the athletes themselves? After much confusion about what to do, the athletes themselves took their fate in their own hand.

A few of them took to the social media to solicit funds that would enable them take care of their own bills towards the games. This was not a new thing. Previous winners from Nigeria to the Olympics, I mean real winners and not mere participants who only travelled to make up the number. Several of these winners have been responsible for their own training and upkeep before becoming the champions the world came to know. Chioma Ajunwa who won gold in the long jump at the Atlanta Olympic Games and Chika Chukwumerije who won a bronze medal in Taekwondo at the Beijing 2008 Games easily come to mind. While the former leaned on the arms of the likes of Segun Odegbami, Nigeria’s ex-star footballer, to glory at a time everyone had shunned her for failing a drug test, the bill for the latter’s training and preparation were picked by his father, the late Uche Chukwumerije, who was then a senator. In both cases Nigeria took the glory after these two athletes became champions of the world.

It was therefore nothing to shock anyone when the scandalous news broke that some of the Rio-bound athletes were sending out messages soliciting financial support from Nigerians on social media. These were sportsmen and women who must have spent the last four years preparing for this very Olympics. But they were now like motherless children or, more properly, almajirai sent out with begging bowls to ask for help that will enable them attend the Rio Games.

The initial news out there was that the Sports Ministry actually sent a memo to these athletes advising them to seek help where it could be found or demand reimbursement after they might have spent their own resources to represent Nigeria. Soon followed a wasteful period of finger-pointing when the Sports Ministry and the athletes started passing the buck as to who advised the athletes to take the unprecedented step of publicly begging for support. Who knows, perhaps officials of the Ministry actually put the athletes up to that in a bid to force the hands of the government to release funds that would cover the cost of Nigeria’s participation in Rio. After all, it was soon after this that the Sports Ministry showed its readiness to pay for the athletes’ passage to the Olympic Games.

But even at that it seems this gesture was too late in coming. The damage appears to have been done, and we may have to wait until the end of the Games to know what our shoddy preparations have caused us. Evidence that we might be in for a shameful Olympics was clear in the failure of the Nigerian contingent to sport a special wear for the opening ceremonies. A couple of weeks before the contingent’s departure to Brazil they had been presented to President Muhammadu Buhari in a comical attire that portrayed the men (not the women- they looked more like angelic beings) either like magicians or the American wrestler, The Undertaker.

Perhaps it was the criticisms that trailed the presentation of this official attire that got those who chose it for the athletes to look for alternatives. These, apparently, could not be got ready for the opening ceremony? Otherwise, what was the reason for our athletes’ showing up for the opening in sweats? Days before the games took off other countries like America were already bragging about the tongue-wagging potentials of their trendy and unique official outfit. But the Nigerian contingent showed up like late intruders to a third rate village game. If there was any pointer to our lack of preparation, our failure to provide official attire for our athletes proved it beyond the shadow of any doubt. And the world must have noticed this as they always notice our rubbish.

While our lack of adequate preparations for Rio has followed a traditional pattern of irresponsible conduct, the frequency with which the present Sports Ministry appears to be making art of bad decisions could be fouling the waters even more in other areas of sports administration. A case in point is Solomon Dalung’s alleged usurpation of the traditional power of the Nigerian Olympics Committee to name a captain for the Nigerian contingent as were a series of blunders that included stoking the feud between Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa, thereby resurrecting the fight over who is the NFF chair while supposedly trying to make peace between the men. And how does Dalung’s job description include talking with militants in the Niger Delta?

The Rio Olympics, Nigeria and the Sports Ministry on Vanguard News.

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