By Rotimi Fasan
Now the Rio Olympics is over it may be time to take stock of Nigeria’s participation at the games. After what were clearly shoddy preparations or in fact non-preparation for the games, the result of our participation is now out for all to see. A bronze medal in football couldn’t possibly be all we spent the last four years preceding the games preparing for. It was clear that nothing good could or would come out of Rio for Nigeria in the light of how we programmed ourselves to fail.
Early confirmation of this came after our athletes to the games showed up at the opening ceremony in track suits. This happened in spite of the fact that Nigerians, including President Muhammadu Buhari, were deceived into believing that a special outfit had been commissioned for the games. The 419 people at the Sports Ministry even got some of the athletes to pose for photographs with the President in the special outfit. In the end it was a no-show in Rio. Indeed, we hear the outfits arrived when the games were almost over and the athletes they were meant for, let down by their country, had mostly left Rio to lick the wound of defeat.
The shame of Rio belongs not to the athletes but a country that would make a mess of its athletes’ preparations, their lifetime dream to be part of what defined them as athletes whose goal is to prove their mettle on the most revered sport platform on our planet. The shame of Rio is indeed that of a country that would send out its sports ambassadors on a limb to the greatest sport event in the world and leave them to the mercy of foreigners.
The U23 football team that represented Nigeria at Rio is definitely pampered compared with their counterparts from the different sports that represented the country. But even at that the ignominy meted to the football contingent was too glaring for the world not to see. It would attract the attention of Japanese surgeon, Katsuya Takasu, who came to show his appreciation of the dedication of the team with a monetary gift of $390, 000. In the end, the only medal from this year’s Olympics came from this team, the same team that was stranded in Atlanta during training for Rio and almost couldn’t make it to Brazil. Nigeria has been taken for a ride again. We’ve been duped by our government and sports administrators.
Nigeria has surely been reduced to the status of a refugee country whose athletes couldn’t pay their way to the Olympics and would therefore have to depend on the benevolence of foreigners. Not even the refugee team at the games suffered the disgrace our athletes went through. A country just coming from a war like Slovenia and was making its first appearance ever at an Olympics had a gold medal to its name. Same with Fiji which got a rugby gold even though a tiny island, one of the smallest countries in the world. But we call ourselves the giant of Africa, an independent country of about 170 million people with a president and other leaders in elective office. We went to Rio to show the world how irresponsible we could be as a country.
Our presence in Rio was a demonstration of shamelessness. We knew we had no business going to the games given our extremely poor preparation. We knew nothing good could come out of Rio save the illegal benefits that would accrue to individuals and groups attending the games on government bill. But in spite of our awareness that we would fail we continued to behave like magicians expecting to reap where we had not sown.
Our beret-wearing Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, now neck-deep in trading blames with others in the Sports Ministry and elsewhere in the sports sector- went around urging the athletes they didn’t bother providing for to bring back gold as gifts to Nigerians and presents to nonentities from God-knows-where. A country that abandoned its own athletes! Even Samsom Siaisia who knows better than most that his so-called Dream Team had been short-changed was equally expecting gold as a birthday present, as if better prepared athletes who came to the games were there as tourists.
Ultimately, Nigeria’s failure at Rio is the failure of the present administration and the administration before it. What did they do to ensure that our athletes did not waste four years planning to be at the Olympics only to fail? What measures did they put in place to justify any expectation of success on their part? Do they accept their role in the Rio shame? For it is not impossible that Dalung himself is a victim of a system that puts people in office, expects results from them but then deny them the resources that will enable the production of good result. Dalung could, for all we care, be covering up for government’s ineptitude. Otherwise, let government make clear what it thinks of our performance in the Olympics and how much it did to expect good result from our athletes.
How early did government release fund to the Sports Ministry to meet its obligations to the athletes attending the Rio Olympics? What were the resources put in place to ensure that athletes got adequate training long before the commencement of the games? What training programmes did these athletes undertake to get them ready for the Olympics? Four years may not be long enough to prepare for the Olympics if athletes had to wait until three months before the games before embarking on training.
The Olympics baton has effectively passed to Tokyo. Which is to say that we have four clear years before us to prepare. Shall we begin our preparation in earnest or wait again until the eve of the opening ceremony of the 2020 games before realising that we have done nothing to make a respectful showing? We are the only country whose presence at international events like this is just for the show. We make no attempts beyond lip service to improve our medal tally each time we participate at major sporting events.
Since the Atlanta Olympics of 1996, two decades since Chioma Ajunwa got us our first individual gold and the football team got a gold, we have not done anything to move up the medals table. Our best performance at the football World Cup was in 1994. We were ranked fifth in the world. But that has been the highest we’ve ever been on the ranking ladder. It’s been down hill ever since. We live on past glory and regress into failure even as we mouth empty promises of success each time we get set for new games. Shame!