Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games silver medalist in the women 4x400m race, Fatima Yusuf- Olukoju, in a video interview by AthleticsAfrica and monitored by CHARLES OGUNDIYA has said there is need to go back to the grassroots so as to develop budding talents that will excel for the country in the future. Excerpts…
Nigeria tends to forget her heroes, how do you feel when you go to school in the United States and see people appreciating you for what you achieved on the track but back home there is nothing like that?
Yes, you are right. Here in America, sport is like a religion, not all the kids that participated in sports will make it to the Olympics, but they will take something from it that will help them through life as they age. I think Nigerians back at home should start to think like that; like you said, not many people know who Fatima Yusuf is. And it’s not just me, a lot of our great athletes these young people have no idea who they are. What’s the cause of this, who’s not teaching them the history: the teachers, the coaches, the administrators? They don’t know their history and it is sad because if they know their history that Fatima, Falilat Ogunkoya, Yusuf Alli, Bisi Afolabi, Charity Opara, and the rest who have achieved a lot at the Olympics, we need to go get those records. But the truth is these kids don’t know at all. If you ask some Nigerian athletes, they have no idea that the we won silver medal in the 4x400m, I don’t think they have been teaching them history of the sport. It should be part of our curriculum, the coaches should be advocating this in a way, they should be using us as an example to encourage these youngsters. Let them know that we have done it in the past and encourage the kids to match our achievements and surpass them. This is not done at the moment and there is little anyone can is doing about it.
Would you say it could be probably because there is that divide, I mean you people are over there in America, Britain, etc. Young athletes probably feel ‘they are European, so let’s do our stuff here while they do theirs over there’?
Would you say that’s the problem? Yes and no. There is still a foundation that every single country has to follow, and that’s the development of the youth; there is no other way around it. But Nigeria wants to go around it. Look at where we are, we have to go back to where it works, we have to go back to the drawing board. How did we get here? It was through the youth system, so everybody in the world always goes back to their grassroots, but Nigeria we don’t. So I will tell you, that foundation never changes, the way you attain it is different but the goal and the means of getting it is still the same. At least in my belief, we have to go back to school sports, we have to empower all those Physical Education masters and mistresses, we have to empower them and bring them on board, we have to support them because they are the ones that have first hand knowledge of these kids when they come to their classes. We have to teach them how to identify talents, who do they need to contact after they might have identified these kids. We need to have that system, but at the moment, we don’t have it.
That system actually worked for you during your days because a lot of you were picked up from schools, and drafted to the national team, why do you think the country is now failing?
I believe people want a quick fix; they don’t want to do the dirty work. Pushing the youngsters is the dirty work, it doesn’t bring any immediate glory, it takes time for the fruit to ripe. So they wait until this child is an adult, in between that, there is no training, no foundation instilled in these kids. So it’s because there is no glory, it’s just a quick fix, they are putting bandage on the wound, it doesn’t help, nobody wants to do the dirty job. We should be having a lot of youth clubs all over Nigeria, but we don’t have those at the moment. In America we have a lot of youth clubs, I have a youth club, my youngest one is five years old, you should see him run with perfect form. That child has a higher chance of making it than a child who doesn’t know anything, who has never been taught. So coaching youths in Nigeria is a dirty job, there is no incentive, therefore, coaches don’t go through that route.
Would you say Nigeria needs a strong government policy like the country used to have back in the days when the National Sports Commission had a strong relationship with the Ministry of Education.
Absolutely. The policies are in place; there’s nothing wrong with the policy, people just stopped enforcing it, people stopped applying it. Those policies still work, maybe they might need some updates, but we don’t need to start setting up another committee, setting up new policy is a waste of time and money.
We have them already, let’s look at what worked then and what’s not working, let us just fix it. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, it has been done for us by some awesome good administrators, I don’t want to start mentioning names, but at the same time, we need the government because the sponsors have lost the trust. Lack of accountability, lack of checks and balances have really cost us a lot. If I am a business owner, I can’t bring my money to no one who is not willing to show me how they spend my money, why would I want to do that? So we need to rebuild trust. We have tons of men and women business owners in Nigeria who love sports and are willing to support but we have to assure them that what we say we are going to use their money for is what we are actually doing with their money.
We should not even be waiting for them to ask us to show them our books, how did we spend it, we should be transparent enough. We have a lot of fixing to do and we need awesome people with like minds that love these sports to do it. We have all these old people running our sports with old ideas that have failed us and they continue to be there, why?
They need to go. We need fresh faces, fresh ideas, we have them in Nigeria, we have people who can get the job done, but the road blocks, how are we going to pass them? But I know we are going to get there soon. The revolution is starting and I believe the good old days will be back soon in Nigeria.