THE TRAGEDY OF NIGERIAN SPORTS
8/3/2012 4:21:48 PM -
The United States on Thursday (August 2nd 2012) night knocked off Nigeria's D' Tigers by a margin of 156-73, in the highest scoring basketball game in Olympic history. The 156 United States points surpassed the Olympic record of 138 by Brazil and the 83 point differential is a United States Olympic record.
The above media report from the London Olympic is a representation of the general poor standard of performance recorded so far by the contingent from Nigeria at the 2012 global tournament rated as one of the most competitive, transparently free and fair tournaments in Olympic history.
As I watched Nigeria suffer this horrendous sporting humiliation in London, a thought flashed through my sub-conscious that the entire sporting industry in Nigeria is witnessing monumental tragedy and sharp decline because of a number of identifiable man-made impediments which obviously includes the disease of the mind called corruption which afflicts sports' administrators in my country.
Before delving into the details of what constitutes the fundamental fault lines that have severely and negatively affected the growth, development and advancement of the sporting industry in Nigeria, it will be worthwhile to recall some historical underlying facts of the 2012 Olympic in the United Kingdom in which Nigeria has performed so abysmally poorly with only but a week to go to the closing ceremony of this epochal sporting festival.
The 2012 London Olympic with a total of 205 countries participating began on Friday 27th July 2012 and expected to wind up on Sunday August 12th 2012. The opening events have variously been applauded as the most glamorous, most scientifically beautiful opening event in the Olympic history. The London Olympic has similarly witnessed the setting of many World records in the different spheres of sports such as in swimming, canoeing, gymnastics among a few others which will linger in the memories of most people for a long time to come.
Specifically, the international media reports that on the opening day of the six-day track competition, riders set six world records in two different events on the super fast track made of Siberian pine wood.
Chinese and British women improved the team`s sprint world record three times in the space of an hour before Britain broke its own men`s team pursuit world record with a time of 3 minutes, 52.499 seconds during the qualification round.
Besides, the British team of Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh lowered the mark of 3:53.295 that they set at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, earlier this year.
Britain then broke its own men`s team sprint world record with a time of 42.747 seconds to reach the final against France.
Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy lowered the mark of 42.914 that Germany had set on Dec. 1, 2011, at a World Cup meet in Cali, Colombia.
In the final, the British squad broke the record again, riding in 42.600 seconds to win its second straight Olympic gold medal in the race, the most explosive event of the Olympic track program.
But what is responsible for this show of shame by Nigerian representatives at the London Olympic as well as in other global and continental sporting competition? Why has Nigeria which in the past Olympic tournaments performed very well in both male and female football by becoming first ever African nation to have won Gold medals to decline to this poor level? The most fundamental factor for the rot in the nation's sports is corruption of the sports administrators who view their jobs as life time opportunities to loot public fund rather than as patriotic duty to institutionalize professional excellence in the sporting industry.
Why for instance will the Federal Government continue the tradition of late release of funds for important tournaments such as the Olympic? Why has Nigerian government found it almost practically impossible to attract private sponsors of our various sporting events and by so doing only allowed those who are professionally incompetent to ruin our sporting industry on a systematic basis?
Another salient reason is the collapse of rural or youth sports development at the level of schools right from primary to post-secondary educational institutions? Why are there no sporting Academies to catch younger and talented athletes at much more tender stage?
In trying to find possible reason why Nigeria has not performed well in the London Olympic, a top level official of the Nigerian sporting federation at the ongoing Olympic has raised alarm that the fund for training of the participants was only released with few hours to the commencement of the tournament.
According to the Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper, the official who begged for anonymity cried out to President Goodluck Jonathan when reports had it that more than N2 billion had been released for the Olympic Games in London. He was bitter that the money was released so late that it did not help Nigeria's preparation for the ongoing London Games.
'N2b can help our sports and help us win gold medals at the Olympic Games if it is released in time and spread over four years for preparation,' the official said, lamenting that the last minute release of funds only creates room for corruption as the whole money is hardly used for the purpose for which it was meant.
'About N2.3b was said to be the total so far released for the London games but I am sure that they have not spent more than N800m on our preparation and they couldn't have spent more than N200m here in London because the host is providing accommodation, feeding the athletes and providing some other logistics for all teams,' the official said.
He continued:'From the last Olympics in Beijing till date if we used N2b to develop our athletes, train them, expose them and enter them for competitions I will be telling you how many gold medals we can win here in London. But we are still running sports according to government lines and all monies approved and allocated each year must be spent that year and when we have the Olympic Games we will be waiting for budget approval and implementation to start preparation at the time others would have finished theirs'.
But why is Nigerian government not willing to do what is right so as to correct the anomalies weighing down the development of sports in the country? In other climes, when government officials notice a decline in any aspect of their sporting industry, actions are effectively adopted to correct such problems.
In England, the Senior National Football team has suffered series of misfortunes in all globally rated tournaments and the English Press has indeed consistently put the government and sports administrators under intense pressure resulting in a number of remedial measures that have been put in place including comprehensive youth development agenda to attract younger football talents to attend special sports academies which would invariably return England once more to global Football fame.
Writing in the June 11, 2012 edition titled: 'The tragedy of English Football', Time Magazine expressed shock that England invented the game of Football and is home to the most exciting professional league on the planet but still groping in the dark when it comes to winning internal laurels.
The authors of the piece posed the question thus; 'But why has England's National team consistently disappointed for nearly 50 years?
In that same edition, TIME Magazine provided possible reason thus; 'England lags behind the rest of Europe in youth development, having long subscribed to the belief that footballers are born, not made. The Premier League is trying to redress that liability by restructuring its youth-training scheme. In the past, development was local, with promising youngsters going to nearby teams. Now the Premier league is embarking on a best-against-the-best program, giving the top kids from across the country the chance to play against one another and benefit from elite coaching. The goal: 10,000 hours of supervised practice play, considered the threshold level for top-tier performance.'
One wonders why Nigeria cannot win an Olympic medal in swimming when half of the entire country is superbly blessed and endowed with rivers that ought to be used as launching pad to train budding swimmers who would have learnt one or two skills as local swimmers and therefore could easily be coached with the provision of standard modern facilities which should be provided in the different parts of the country.
Why has South African athletes performed better at the London Olympic than the Nigerian Contingent?
We must collectively resolve as a nation to rediscover a place of pride for ourselves in the sporting World by first and foremost, implementing workable sports youth development agenda. If Nigeria can repair the damage done to our sports, we will create a thriving industry capable of creating wealth and employment opportunities for thousands of youths who would embrace sports as professional careers to advance themselves and contribute meaningfully to the economy of the country.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, blogs at www.huriwa.blogspot.com