The Olympic Games remain the best yardstick to evaluate athletes and countries worldwide. It comes up every four years and it is regarded as the biggest assemblage of people in a particular place for same event. As Nigeria celebrates 60th Independence, it is important to state that athletics has been the most productive sports for Nigeria at the Olympic Games. The first Olympic gold medal was recorded in athletics by Chioma Ajunwa who jumped to victory at the 1996 Atlanta games.
In 2008, following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip the American 4×400m relay team of its medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performanceenhancing drugs, Nigeria team anchored by Enefiok Udo-Obong who had finished second were awarded the gold medal. There were also five silver and six bronze medals recorded at the games from athletics.
We recall that weightlifting also earned Nigeria a silver medal at the Sydney 2000 games, just as taekwondo won a silver at the Beijing Olympics through Chika Chukwumerijie. Overall, despite the talents at the disposal of Nigeria, the results posted in the last 60 years are not enough to prove to the world the talents in the country.
Maladministration in form of corruption, poor planning, poor technical ability of coaches and poor welfare of athletes affect performance all round. For example, we can boldly say that it is indeed strange that experienced table tennis players like Segun Toriola and Funke Oshonaike are not in the national table tennis coaching crew after attending Olympics for seven and six times respectively.
Despite the one year shift of the games, there are no clear cut preparatory plans for the Olympics in Nigeria while other serious countries prepare for the same event for at least three years. At 60, we call for a policy template to run sports in terms of participation, coaching, training and the reward system.
There must be deliberate plan to give attention to other sports like wrestling, swimming, boxing, weightlifting, taekwondo, shooting and table tennis. Swimming, shooting and weightlifting are medalspinning events and there must be a way to encroach in the medals table of theses sports to weaken rival countries, especially in Africa. It is imperative to look back and develop boxing more to rekindle the achievements of the past.
The sports federations should also embrace peace to enable them get the desired results for the country. Going down memory lane to the pre-independence era, Dick Tiger and Hogan Kid Bassey won the world Middleweight Boxing Championship belt and the World Featherweight boxing championship belt respectively. However, Nojeem Maiyegun’s bronze medal at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo was historic for Nigeria.
It gave other athletes the hope that the country is blessed with talents good enough to rule the world in their respective disciplines. And so, it was not a surprise when other boxers mounted the podium in subsequent games. We recall Isaac Ikhuoria and Peter Konyewachi also won bronze at the 1972 and the 1984 games. David Izonritei and Richard Igbineghu went a step further to win silver at Barcelona games in 1982 while Duncan Dokinwari clinched bronze at Atlanta 96.
That was incidentally the country’s last boxing medal at the games and it speaks volume about the decadence that has crippled sports in Nigeria. Aside the Olympic Games, Nigerian boxers have done well in the Commonwealth Games. They have won 13 gold, six silver and 17 bronze medals, to place seventh in the all-time Commonwealth boxing medals’ table. Also, at the All Africa Games, Nigeria is one of the best countries in boxing, with an overall medals haul of 18 gold, 17 silver and nine bronze medals.
Football is most loved in Nigeria, but it does not reflect much in the results posted. Winning the Nations Cup three times (1980,1994 and 2013) is not good enough to tell the story of Nigeria in Africa when Cameroon, Ghana and Egypt have done better.
Eagles have made five appearances at the FIFA World Cup with their best result coming with Round of 16 showings in 1994 (debut appearance for Nigeria), 1998 and 2014. Again, this is not good enough since Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal have played in the quarterfinals at the mundial.
At the U-17 level, Nigeria has won the FIFA World Cup five times to remain the best country in the world in this cadre. Nigeria has won silver twice in the U-20 cadre. And in the U-23 stage, which is the team that features at Olympics, Nigeria has won gold (1996), silver (2005) and bronze (2008) medal at the games.
In female football, the Super Falcons are the most successful side in Africa having won the African Women’s Championship nine times out of the 11 editions. And unlike the men, the female national football team has featured in the World Cup quarterfinals.
Today, sports is big business and we are happy the Ministry of Sports is looking in that direction. Stakeholders must be ready to conform to the way the sector is being run successfully in developed world and the administrators must be upright enough to shun bickering and focus on how to get things right without sentiments.