The 31st Olympiad drew to a close in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 14, with Nigeria having only a Bronze medal in football to show for its efforts. The country’s dismal performance saw it sharing a joint 14th position in Africa with Egypt, while it came a distant 74th in the world, in the contest which featured 207 countries.
Contrary to the fears that the sustained protests by segments of the Brazilian society, the ravaging Zika Virus, terrorism, deadline blues and significant last minute withdrawals by elite athletes, would mar the Olympics, the games held without major hitches and drew to a colourful close, to global acclaim.
Once the games kicked off on Friday, August 5, the spirit of the Olympics took over and all of the initial fears and concerns took the back seat. We congratulate the city of Rio, the entire people of Brazil and the International Olympic family for a most remarkable outing.
For us in Nigeria, it is lamentations foretold, as we take stock of our participation in the global event. Of the nine different games the country entered for and participated in, we only made a mark on the medals table with a solitary Bronze medal in the men’s football event.
On the surface, this is an improvement on our performance at the London 2012 Olympics, where we failed to win a single medal. That was not even the first time we recorded such a disgraceful performance since our first outing at the games in 1953 in Helsinki. Our first three outings did not produce any medal until we won one in Tokyo in1964.
Compare this to the performance of the United States, which is the most successful country in the history of the Olympics, and lately, Great Britain. At the Atlanta 1996 Games, Team Great Britain finished behind Nigeria on the medals table. But 20 years after, it has greatly improved its fortunes, finishing a superbly impressive second, with a haul of 67 medals (27 Gold, 23 Silver and 17 bronze) in Rio. One athlete from the US, Michael Phelps, who is arguably the greatest Olympian of all times, recorded a personal tally of 28 medals, 23 of them gold.
This is the result that countries which take sports seriously get. Sports, at the highest level, is more than just participating in a competition. It is a serious business. It involves national pride, and is a high form of diplomacy. It is also a strategic investment which has many benefits.
Unfortunately, our leaders and sports administrators mouth niceties about sports development, but do little to achieve it? The evidence is to the contrary. For example, simple logistics defeated us on the journey from Atlanta to Rio for our U-23 football team. While the rest of the organised world watched in baffled amazement, we washed our dirty linen in the public and barely made it to the opening football match with Japan, which Nigeria won 5-4.
That was a demonstration of the Nigerian spirit. This is the unflinching determination of the average Nigerian for rising from the ashes of adversity to the lofty heights of success. True to type, our neglected and traumatised men football team won our only medal in Rio. But, this is not the way of global champions. It is not the way of successful nations. It is not the way of enduring successes. Such take long-term planning, focused execution, continuity of policies and targeted results.
The real lesson of the Rio 2016 Olympics and several others before it is that we need to embrace long-term planning and disciplined execution of policies. We must discard our ad-hoc and mercantile attitude to sports. In the immediate, we must revive our school sports, collegiate sports, the University games and the various services sports.
These are the mills from which champions can be supplied. We must embrace early detection of talented sportspersons and develop the discipline to nurture them to their fullest potential. We must identify the sports in which we have comparative advantage and select the few we can develop and gradually build from there.
If we do not come up with a credible strategy for improving our performance at the Olympics, all the talk about achieving a better outcome in the next Olympics holding in Tokyo in 2020 will be balderdash. Olympics champions are not made in four years. It takes many more years of dedication to the grooming of participants at the games to achieve the desired results.
We congratulate our contingent to the Rio Olympics and urge our sports administrators to start preparations for Tokyo 2020.