It is 18 days to the official commencement of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad commonly known as the Rio 2016 Olympics. Understandably, there appears to be a global sagging interest in the event, no thanks to the Zika Virus recorded in Brazil.
But the apathy in Nigeria is not connected to the fears of Zika Virus. It is our characteristic poor preparation for most events for which barren medal-outing is often the outcome.
Certainly when the roll is called in Rio on August 5, Nigeria shall be there! It may be a different tale on August 21 when the last medals are awarded. Nigeria’s name may be missing. We are loudly marching to match our London 2012, Seoul 1988 and Moscow 1980 records. Even the football team that initially showed promises appears to have been infected with sagging morale.
Their recent results and the possible unavailability of key players have brought down hopes of a repeat of Atlanta ’96 splendid performance. It then appears that our intention is mere attendance of the Rio Olympic Games. Certainly, there is no medal prospect.
The desire to compete, the skills to excel, the courage to overcome and the strength to believe, are the qualities of true Olympians. Unfortunately, these are not well reflected in our Olympic preparations and performances.
It is well known that the Latin words that comprise the Olympic motto: “Citius – Altius – Fortius” translates in English to “Swifter – Higher – Stronger”.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s preparations and the consequent results have never reflected the spirit behind the motto. Each edition of the games is supposed to produce better performance.
This brings to memory the statement made to the nation 52 years ago by the accomplished sportsman cum statesman, the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, hear the January 11, 1964 nationwide address of Nigeria’s first President while urging Nigerian sportsmen and women to develop the zeal to always win:
“Today, the emphasis is on winning and not merely participating…” The man who combined statesmanship with sportsmanship told the nation that excellence in international sports was a public relations tool to launder the image of Nigeria. He reflected on how performance on the field of sport was helping to dwarf the stature of Nigeria.
This is even more glaring now if one considers the latest FIFA rankings where Nigeria has been overtaken by countries such as Benin Republic, South Africa and Uganda. Dr. Azikiwe probably had a dream of what the situation would be 52 years ago when he remarked: “Our standards in athletics are still under the international level.
“In football, we are still inferior to our African neighbours, relatively, not to speak of European standards.
Consequently, Nigeria has been unable to hold high its head among the sporting nations of the world in spite of our being the largest populated nation in Africa and the 13th among the 120 or more independent states of the earth”.
He pointed to the factors aiding the glaring stagnation of the nation in international sports, especially the Olympics. “First is our attitude to sports. The second is our general unwillingness to assimilate scientific techniques in training. Lastly, we have not actively created the atmosphere on a national basis, where we can discover it, to the glory of Nigeria.
Since it appears we are more contended in mere participation, we may need to reflect on what Dr. Azikiwe said on this:
“Let it be clear to all concerned that gentility in sports is a by-product of the Victorian era with its aristocratic traditions. By the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of not playing necessarily to win, but having the ‘honour’ to participate, formed the basis of British ethics of sportsmanship which, in our innocence, we have inherited”.
The era of great athletes like the Ezinwa brothers, Chidi Imoh, Yusuf Ali, Innocent Egbunike, Francis Obiekwelu, Mary Onyali and Fatima Ogunkoya among others is long gone and confined into history. In that era, one would be hoping on individual performances or at worst, there will be prospects in the relays.
Today, the entire athletics hope is placed on the fragile shoulders of Blessing Okagbare. In the years past, Nigeria’s prowess in athletics was not limited to the tracks alone. There were fine jumpers like Sam Igun, David Ejoke, Yusuf Ali, Joseph Taiwo, Ajayi Agbebaku, and Chioma Ajunwa among others. They complemented the performances of the athletes on the track to make athletics truly Track and Field.
In summary, we need to realise that countries that perform well at the Olympics put up serious long and short term planning, not the fire brigade approach that we have often adopted. We are now very familiar with the rhetoric declarations of our sports officials and the government at the end of every disappointing outing: “Preparation for the next games begins immediately”.