By Sunday Onyemaechi Eze
After an awful outing in the 2012 London Olympics, everyone thought that history of unpreparedness will not repeat itself again as the nation prepare for the just concluded Rio Olympic Games. However, the result showed that the nation learned absolutely nothing. The Ministry of Sports and agencies responsible for the outing expected miracle to happen in the events. Chief Samuel Ogbemudia once recounted his experience with a Russian Football Federation official in Moscow sometime in 1985 as it relates to the nation’s penchant and over-reliance in God despite poor preparations at any given sports outings.
As usual before the game, Nigerian team gathered for prayer. The Russian Federation official was amazed at the action of the Nigerian team and inquired what went on. Chief Ogbemudia answered, they were praying, of course. The Russian official retorted that they should have done more in quality preparations instead of relying on prayer for success. This food for thought means that success comes through a dint of hard work and not through all-night of prayer.
One does not only pray but has to be diligent, determined and focused to achieve success. He who fails to prepare should prepare to fail is a reality and the golden rule of every human endeavour. This means there is no short-cut to success. The expectation of miracles without preparation is a short-cut to fame and a show of unbelief in itself. Sports and sports development in Nigeria have suffered tremendous setback owing to the above circumstances. God understands the aspect of faith and good works when He says in James 2:20, “but do you know, o foolish man that faith without work is dead?” The truth remains that, those responsible for managing our sports lack the requisite qualifications and passion for the job. At a time the Dream Team VI was abandoned in America in the run up to the Olympic games, this ignorance was evident in the outburst of the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, as he lampooned the officials of the Dream Team VI in his famous United States of Nigeria interview where he queried the rationale behind going to America for training. Sports is today the only identified unifying factor gluing the nation together. When the national teams are competing, all the ethnic, tribal and religious differences are set aside. We all celebrate in times of victory and speak with one voice at the loss of a competition. Moreover, the potentials of sports as a revenue earner cannot be over-emphasised. Huge foreign exchange in dollars has been earned over the years by Nigerians engaged in active sports abroad.
The Ministry of Sports seems to be cursed or are those managing it cursed. Those at the helm see sports as money-making venture, so they do whatever it takes to get to the top. The ministry more often than not is immersed in one form of controversy or the other. At no time in the history of the ministry did those responsible get it right. The Ministry of Sports is alleged to owe two late coaches of the national team, Stephen Keshi and Amodu Shuaibu. The Dream Team VI coach, Samson Siasia has called it quits and demanded for his backlog of pay also. Corruption, the tainted processes of hiring coaches, payment of match bonuses and logistics are always issues to contend with even when logistics funds are in place. The primordial interests of a few individuals have continued to cause the nation monumental embarrassments.
The just-concluded Rio Olympics in Brazil is one of such embarrassments. Team Nigeria has to be on track suits at the opening ceremony because someone abdicated his responsibilities. Many athletes had bemoaned the attitude of Sports ministry officials and have vowed not to represent Nigeria again in any sporting event. It was also disheartening that the football kits did not arrive early until three days to the end of the Olympic Games. This can happen only in Nigeria where someone could enter into agreements with companies in crucial engagements without proper terms. One had thought that by now the sledge hammers would have fallen on some erring officials but Nigerians are yet to see it happen. It is currently steaming on the social media that Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) has demanded to have the $390,000 donation by Katsuya Takasu a Japanese surgeon to the Dream Team VI. Haba Amaju, it is only those who played football that take oranges and glucose!
Levi Obijiofor in his column, Insight, summed up the reality of collapse in the Sports Ministry thus “every Olympic Game is a tale of sadness and anger. Nigerian our sportsmen and women are not supported. They are not encouraged. They are not inspired. They are not rewarded. Many of sportsmen and women participate in international competitions at their own expenses and troubles. They lack basic training facilities, equipment and expertise; they are deprived of funds; they are exposed to harsh elements that are designed to make them fail. Their accommodation is usually second-rate. The food they eat is no better than what you get at a roadside mobile canteen.
On the rare occasion when a Nigerian athlete wins a medal in an international competition, we are dazed, we are taken by surprise, we express shock at the result because we didn’t expect any medals. Surely, you do not boil an empty pot and expect to produce a pot of soup filled with meat and vegetables. “Anybody interested in sports administration should get a basic skill training that would qualify him to take charge. We should not leave sports administration in the hands of quacks.”
Eze writes from Abuja.
The undying spirit of Nigerians was in action as it drove the Dream Team VI to winning bronze despite the deliberate obstacles ministry officials placed on their road to success. The team was deliberate shabbily treated to say the least. The lessons of Rio and others should guide the nation in good preparation for further outings. The nation has what it takes to win medals in Olympics because the human and material resources abound. What is expected is the ability to harness these abundant and wasting potentials. We cannot afford to do the same thing every time and expect a different result. The unending flip-flop of the ministry of Sports and the boards was the bane of sports in Nigeria and disastrous outing at Rio. The Ministry of Sports needs urgent overhaul as well as institutional rebirth. Laws guiding sports administration needed to be strengthened to stop anyone from circumventing laid-down rules and procedures. My special commendation goes to Dream Team VI for making the nation proud and showing the world that there is strength in adversity despite all odds. The sky is your limit and the Lord will continue to shine His light upon you. Go and succeed in your field of sport.
Eze writes from Abuja.