The recently concluded IAAF World Championships in London have come and gone, and in their wake, they have brought up familiar recriminations among Nigerians. Unfortunately, we tend to ask these questions at the wrong time, and as always, we ask questions that we have answers to.
Nigeria ended the tournament without any medals despite competing in seven events at the World Championships and having twelve athletes represent the country. As usual, Nigerians have placed the blame at the doorsteps of the administrators. The problem is, we ask these questions at the end of every failed championship, forget about the problems shortly after, and then wash, rinse and repeat at the end of the next failed tournament.
In 1996, after Great Britain posted their worst sporting result at the Olympics, the British sporting authorities declared a genuine emergency. They took the decision to invest lottery funds into sports and gave different sports targets for medals. Failure to meet the performance target caused an automatic cut in funds to the sport such as what happened to basketball, wrestling and table tennis. It wasn’t just about putting in the funds, but the specific use of funds; training facilities/ schedule, diet and medical support (coaches, scientists and medics). All these helped them to move from 36th position in 1996 to 2nd in 2016 on the medals table. Such was the dedication of the government to sports as it brought jobs, successful careers for athletes and pride to the nation.
We have built structures in Nigeria without purpose beyond the immediate necessity of an imminent competition. The Olympic stadium in London was used for Rugby World Cup matches and is now home to West Han football club, so that structure is well maintained and a source of revenue long after the 2012 Olympics. The same cannot be said about the stadium in Abuja or the National Stadium in Lagos. Schools that should be an avenue for structured grassroot sports development do not even have the space not to talk of the facilities to develop athletes that would grow into professionals representing the Country. Phyllis Francis (400m gold), Kori Carter (400m hurdles gold), Christian Coleman (100m silver) at the 2017 World championships were all college champions and went on to excel for the USA; where are our school champions?
Athletes are also culpable. Yes, I said it.
Some of these athletes are abroad and train at some world class facilities and still do not meet the performance standards. The country is not going to help you post sub 10 seconds for 100m men or sub 11 seconds for women, that’s on you. Sometimes you will have to go the extra mile and apply for a sports scholarship outside the country to help your career. Only three competitions were held in Nigeria before the World championships, not enough to get any athlete ready to compete on the world stage, you have to go out. Personal training and development is on you just ask South Africa’s Luvo Mayonga what he had to fight after his drug suspension cost him everything. But, he came back to win gold at the men’s long jump at the World Championships. True, Nigeria’s government has failed in its provision of an enabling environment for success but your destiny is in your hands.
In conclusion, the government has to acknowledge that sports is a multi- billion dollar industry that has been grossly mismanaged and determine to correct that. Stadiums should be built as multi- purpose centres for maintenance and revenue and be outsourced to facility managers to run. Sports programs should be written and made public for transparency so as to attract sponsorship and investment to fund these programs. Investment in coaching, science and medicine for athletes cannot be overstated for the development of World class athletes and employment for ex internationals and the community at large. In other words, it’s a two way street but the government has to first build the street.
Tega Onojaife is a sports journalist and broadcaster. She can be found anchoring sports programmes on Smooth 98.1FM Lagos, and the NTA.