POSTED: SEP 23, 2016 AT 9:58 AM / / COMMENTS (0)
By Adewumi Oni
The Nigerian Paralympics contingent returned back triumphantly earlier this week with a total haul of twelve medals, eight gold, two silver and two bronze medals. This performance not only surpassed their best ever outing at Sydney 2000, where we won seven gold, two silver and one bronze medals, it also saw Nigeria ranking the best in Africa and 17th on the overall medal table as against 22nd at Sydney 2000. The Games saw power-lifter Josephine Orji shattering the world record of the women’s 86kg event with a lift of 154kg to win the gold medal. It was indeed a moment of pride for Nigerians and a consolation for the poor outing at the Rio Olympics held in July.
It is pertinent to recount the ordeal this contingent went through before leaving for the Games in Rio. They left in low spirits on the background of poor preparation, which has come to characterize our sports sector. There were even fears that the athletes may not perform as much as the last events. They however pleasantly surprised Nigerians when the medals started rolling in, with the team eventually hauling twelve medals.
Having put up the best performance ever at the Paralympics, we should not to be carried away by the euphoria of this performance. It is important to analyze all the events in which we participated and review our performances, with a view to improving in future events. It is necessary to also point out that this performance is attributable to the positive spirit of the athletes and has nothing to do with the support provided by the Ministry of Sport or the Planning Committee. This again is a proof of the resilient spirit of the typical Nigerian. The moment we begin to match our resilience with good preparation on all fronts, we will begin to get great results.
The Minister for Sports and Youth Development, unabashedly had reportedly implied in an interview that one doesn’t need years of preparation to win medals at the Olympics. He said “From what they (Paralympians) have done, it’s now not about the issue of preparation, the Paralympic athletes prepared the same way as the Olympics athletes did. And if they have been able to excel, then the Olympics athletes have to reexamine their roles and participation at the Olympics and try to do better.” One wonders if this is a way of justifying poor preparations. Would we have recorded better performance if the Paralympic athletes have been properly prepared? Why did they perform better than the able-bodied athletes at the Rio Olympics? These are some of the questions one would expect the Minister to find answers for, rather than making such remarks.
The State of Emergency declared in the sports sector should remain in place until a proper roadmap is put in place and necessary supporting infrastructures provided for the next Olympic/Paralympic. It is time to set lofty targets for our athletes. If we start with aiming to among the first twenty in both the Olympic and Paralympic games, it is not too bad. Each of the field and track event should have a target for the 2020 Games, and these targets should be combined to form a blueprint for the next games.
The minister should come down from his high horse of belittling the importance of preparation. he should engage both the private sector and federal government on the need to invest heavily in the sector with a bid to have world class training facility that will enhance the performance of our athletes. To record any success at such private sector parleys, he must be seen to be providing the right kind of leadership for the Ministry.
It would be a big shame if we fail to surpass this feat in 2020 games. It will be a bigger shame if the able-bodied athletes fail to redeem our image by surpassing our Atlanta ‘96 performance. These are not ‘missions impossible’ but will only be realized if we don’t leave them as mere wishful thoughts.
We have the talents to achieve this, we only need to put the necessary infrastructure, supporting systems and incentives in place. Sports could be a viable tool for reducing unemployment, if we do the right things and at the right time. Before we lose all our talents to both neighboring and distant countries, let us do something about our Sports sector.
It is therefore not yet ‘Uhuru’ for the Sports Minister. He should see the Sports sector as an avenue of restoring Nigeria’s lost glory and work assiduously to achieve this aim. Until the Green-White-Green flag becomes the most hoisted flags at any Olympic game, the task of lifting us out of this dark hole is not over.
Oni writes from Mowe, Ogun State