Sports

Team Nigeria’s prospects, challenges in Tokyo

The postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games which was in doubt due to the effect of COVID-19 pandemic is already upon us. One week to the opening ceremony, there was a report that 11th hour cancellation was a possibility but somehow, from 21st of July, some of the preliminary games started in various centres with interesting results. In women’s football for example, Sweden defeated USA 3-0 to stop the 44-match unbeaten run of the Americans.

Brazil whipped highly-rated women’s football team, China, 5-0 and African representatives, Zambia, lost 10-3 to the Dutch women’s team. Nigeria’s men’s and women’s football teams failed to make the cut for the football event of the Games. It’s a big setback for a country that has football as its number one sport. Down memory lane, Nigeria has won a total of 25 medals at the Olympic Games which comprise three gold,10 silver and 12 bronze medals. Chioma Ajuwan won gold just as the country’s Olympic football team did at the Atlanta ’96 games.

In 2008, the International Olympic Committee stripped the American 4 × 400m relay team athletes of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs and so Nigeria’s silver was upgraded to gold. At the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Team Nigeria managed to win only a bronze medal won by the men’s football squad coached by Samson Siasia and captained by Mikel Obi after recording a 3–2 victory in the third place match over Honduras. At the ongoing Games in Tokyo, there are so many challenges because of the restrictions and the template COVID -19 has brought upon everyone.

That the Games are on is a major victory because there were calls for an outright cancellation while the people of Tokyo are not even comfortable to receive visitors. The conditions are so tough. Secretary General of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, Banji Oladapo, described the ongoing Games as an ‘Unusual Olympics.’ I don’t want to sound like a broken record about the do’s and don’ts in Tokyo but Nigeria’s Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is optimistic about the prospects of Team Nigeria at the games. “We have worked so hard and we also motivated the athletes through our Adopt an athlete initiative.

Some of these athletes, especially the elites were adopted and given money to prepare them for the games. The basketball teams also got huge support from banks while some individual athletes receive as much as 10,000 dollars as preparatory grants. We are ready and we will do well in Tokyo, “Dare said. I share the minister’s optimism because Nigerian athletes tend to excel while facing difficult situations.

The conditions in Tokyo are so harsh, hence, many top athletes in various sports disciplines pulled out of the Games. By nature, Nigerians are so tough in spirit and so many of the events are open such that surprises will be recorded. Football is already an example with many surprise results. Nigeria has a huge prospect in wresting especially with the current form of Odunayo Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborodudu.

The country is yet to win a wrestling medal in history but with luck of the draw and things being equal, podium is almost certain. In athletics, Tobin Amusan and Ese Brume are also hot enough to get Nigeria a medal each just as table Tennis sensation and captain of the Team Nigeria, Aruna Quadri, will attempt to better his quarter-final appearance in Rio.

If he does, he is in medal range already. Hammer field event, rowing, taekwondo and gymnastics are some sports that could also fetch medals for the country at the games. The men’s basketball team has shown promise by beating USA and Argentina’s Olympic teams recently in a four-nation tourney. The Mike Brown boys could also make the podium at the Games if they remain focused.

Ministry of sports and the NOC must double efforts on administrative logistics and COVID-19 protocols at the games such that the tough challenges at the games are handled with ease to avoid any distraction in the Team Nigeria camp. The doctors and the entire medical team should be up and doing in Tokyo while the athletes should be advised to always observe protocols as the event progresses. Atlanta ’96 remains the best Olympics for Nigeria with two gold medals won, the current set are good enough to equal or better that performance.

 

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