The nation’s recurring dismal performance in sports generally calls for a paradigm shift in our sports development agenda. There is no doubt that the country has apparently lost so much ground in sports, such as football, boxing, and athletics, which we used to excel in the past. However, it is worth pointing out that we have made modest progress in basketball, wrestling, cycling and swimming. Therefore, it behooves on our sports authorities to rise up to the occasion and restore the country’s lost glory in many of the sports and up the ante in those we are making great strides.
As we look forward to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it is good for us to focus in areas we have comparative advantage. Perhaps, this might have informed Nigeria’s plan to participate in 11 sports at the global sports fiesta. They include basketball, athletics, rowing, table tennis, wrestling, boxing, badminton, canoeing, taekwondo, gymnastics and weightlifting. According to the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, preparation for the games began in October last year. The minister was quoted as saying that nine months was enough to prepare for the Olympics and win medals.
We believe, however, that preparation for such games should take at least two years or even more for us to make good impact. Most countries that do well at the games take longer time frame to prepare. For them, the end of one Olympic Games marks the preparation for another one.
We can never do well at the games with our usual fire brigade approach to sports. And there is no way we can depend on luck to excel in the games. Similarly, we cannot fare well in the games with late preparation. Our best outings in the Olympics so far would be the Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008 events where we won two gold medals in men’s football and the first individual gold medal in a field event and another gold medal in the men’s 400m event respectively. Since then we have receded, winning no medal at the London 2012 and one bronze at the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016.
For the fast-approaching Tokyo games, which would commence in July 24, it is doubtful that our fate would be much different. There are reasons for such pessimism. The preparation for the games has started late and the sports federations have not been properly funded. We commend the Wrestling Federation for doing so much to enhance the country’s Olympics medal prospects. We also laud the recent gains in basketball with our male and female teams on the verge of Olympics qualifications. Going by their antecedents at the recent World Cups, we are hopeful that D’Tigers and D’Tigress would do the country proud at the games.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of our football where both our male and female teams failed woefully to qualify and even table tennis where our female team failed to make the mark. The only good news is from the male team, where Aruna Quadri achieved the highest ever ranking of No. 20 in the world. It is good that new talents have started to emerge in swimming and other sports like rowing and cycling. This is very important for sports development in the country. Moreover, swimming guarantees more medals at the Olympics and other global sporting events.
Most countries invest so many resources in sports development. Nations have also used sports to boost their national pride. That is why smart nations do everything possible to maximise their potentials in sports. It is therefore not a surprise that most advanced countries are also leaders in sports. They include USA, Russia, China, Great Britain, Brazil and others. Also, China and South Korea are making huge investments in sports to catch up. Nigeria, as the giant of Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world, should not remain behind.