By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Any student of politics or history who desires to get a deep insight into the workings of our nation state only needs to take a deep look at unfolding developments emanating from team Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics in Japan which is nearing its end. The Tokyo Olympics will run for just over two weeks with the closing ceremony on August 8th at approximately 20:00 local time. By and large, we have less than six days to the end of Olympics in Japan but a peep at the medal table means a spectacle of nightmare for any patriotic Nigerian because the nation that has the largest black people in the World, is trailing behind. Worst still, the membership of the team Nigeria depleted at the Olympics village with the disqualification of ten athletes for not meeting up with the basic medical requirements for participation.
To add salt to injury Blessing Okabare who is Nigeria’s brightest hope for a medal got disqualified for failing drug test and then another of the runners in whom Nigeria had hoped for brighter prospect, got disqualified in the 100 metre men’s race for an alleged false start. These litany of disasters did not end as narrated above because there are two more things that would inevitably tell any observer that Nigeria has rapidly deteriorated in professionalism, leadership and standards of performance. These are the public protest by the Nigerian athletes who due to no fault of theirs, got disqualified even before they competed at the Olympics proper because the local organizing committee did not follow the thresholds of tests recommended by the international Olympics committee. What that means was that team Nigeria were composed by officials of the Nigerian Athletics Federation but largely made up of participants who were actually not adequately tested in line with the prescriptions of the International Olympics Committee’s benchmark. The second drama was the illogical excuse that the sports minister offered for Nigeria’s poor performance at the Olympics which shows that even when the leadership of the sports sector have failed on a collosal scale the minister who should apologize for his abysmal failure is busy giving some lame excuses. What this attitude of the sports Minister shows is that since we are not even aware that there is a problem, it then becomes very difficult to work out a solution. This means that Nigeria’s vicious circle of errors and incompetence has only just started. Here are the comedy of errors that have marred Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics in which even smaller African nations like Uganda has excelled beyond expectations and has grossed illustrious medals. First Major administrative malady and gross incompetence was the internal factional battles within the Athletics Federation of Nigeria which has lingered for years even before this Tokyo Olympics happened with the minister of youths and sports endorsing one faction whereas the other faction has not accepted the political decision of the sports minister. The case is still at the level of litigation. This fundamental error of lack of a consensus on the leadership of the Athletics Federation may have occasioned the poor preparation for this Olympics which has indeed turned out as a fiasco with Nigeria having the largest number of unqualified athletes flown into the Tokyo Olympics but who were rusticated officially. First and foremost, Nigeria’s preparations as I said was marred by political squabbles for who runs the athletics federation.
The other important thing is to ask what was budgeted and released for the preparations including what kinds of corporate funding supports did Nigeria attract for this Olympics which is rated as the most expensive Olympic as would be seen below in a publication last year by the British based television- Sky News.
Estimated cost of staging Tokyo Olympics has now risen to £11.5bn after the Games had to be put back a year due to the coronavirus pandemic; Olympics due to open on July 23 2021, followed by the Paralympics on August 24. In an online news conference, organisers said the Olympics will now cost $15.4bn (£11.5bn) to stage, up from $12.6bn (£9.4bn) in last year’s budget. The added $2.8bn (£2.1bn) is the cost of the one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, with added expenses coming from renegotiating contracts and measures to combat COVID-19. Also on Friday 18 December came the report that UK Sport has today signalled its intent for the UK to become successful in a wider range of sports and build a high-performance sports community which reflects the diversity of British society. The shift is supported by a plan for investment of £352m into an increased number of sports (43) in the build up to the postponed Tokyo Games, through to the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond. Today’s welcome news provides certainty of funding for Olympic and Paralympic sports in the build up to the Tokyo Games, ensuring athletes can focus on their preparations, ready to make us all proud in Tokyo. The support provided by Government and The National Lottery also allows UK Sport to look to the athletes of the future who are targeting success at the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond. This is UK and their wise investments paid off with their athletes netting in dozens of medals and breaking World’s records. Not so for Nigeria the self acclaimed giant of Africa. For instance, in the last Olympics in 2016 The Nigerian government had admitted its failure to properly prepare the country’s representatives to the 2016 Olympics cost the country the chance of winning medals.
Nigeria could barely win two medals with the Rio Olympics almost coming to a close. The then Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, said the performance so far reflected the level of preparations Nigerian athletes received. “It takes a minimum plan of four years to prepare for an Olympics. We have seen that the likes of Divine Oduduru, Blessing Okagbare, Aruna Quadri, Efe Ajagba, Ese Brume, Chierika Ukogu and others would have made the desired impact if we had done the needful after the London 2012 misadventure. Success in sports no longer depends on skills and determination,” he said. “Sports has gone scientific. It is time now to develop sports from the grassroots using sports science. It is not just to compete but we need to be in tune with modern day sports. We can also start to develop other sports like water sports, gymnastics, long distance races, etc.” Mr. Dalung promised to establish a system that will enable early preparations for the next game in Tokyo, Japan. From this news story of year 2016 and going by the repeat of the poor performance in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics it is evidently clear that the former minister failed. Sunday Dare who is the current Minister has his own lame excuse. He said the representatives of Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics were too young and inexperienced and that their young age brackets is a plus for Nigeria. This is reckless, irrational and illogical. Most other nations also went with inexperienced and young athletes but the difference is that those nations are not as confused as we are in Nigeria.
This confusion became obvious when after ten of her athletes were declared ineligible to compete at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics Games by the Athletics Integrity Unit, the image of Nigeria suffered further battering few hours back when some of the athletes took to the streets of Tokyo to protest their fate. The media reporter said while other countries were celebrating heroic feats and struggling for more medals in Tokyo, Team Nigeria‘s situation took a turn for the worse as the athletes protested the ‘shame’ brought upon the country by negligent sports administrators. Ten of the country’s athletes were disqualified from taking part in the Olympic Games due to their failure to undertake the mandatory three out-of-competition tests expected of athletes taking part in a competition of this magnitude.
The Sports Ministry had labelled those affected as ‘alternate and foreign student-athletes, whose tests did not meet with sample collection and analysis standards’. The consistent poor performance of Nigeria in virtually all the previous and the current Olympics reflect the internal dysfunctionality of the sports sector. Nigeria has also failed to work out corporate funding supports for such a global sporting tournament like the Olympics which is one of the oldest sporting competitions in the World as we will later recall in this piece. This show of shame and the consequential rendition of illogical reasons and the cock and bull story from the minister should ordinarily call for national rebirth. But as we all know of with the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which is averse to merit, competence and professionalism, it will be business as usual even with this disgraceful outing at the Olympics in Tokyo.
Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)