For readers old enough to have been around the time of the turn table and the 12-inch record, they will easily understand the phrase ‘sounding like a broken record.’ But what does this have to do with the ongoing London 2012 Olympic Games? Because we should be ready to hear our officials reel out the same old tune for why Team Nigeria did not live up to expectations again.
Although the London 2012 still has a week to conclude, the performances of our Team Nigerian athletes over the first eight days or so of action leaves much to be desired.
While many of us had hoped that a leaner Team Nigeria (Nigeria went with a 116-man strong contingent of which 55 were athletes) devoid of the usual ‘government delegation’ would make for a ‘meaner’ Team Nigeria so far this has not been the case.
While it is true that the main plank of our Olympic hopes only began yesterday when athletics kicked off; the way and manner our entrees in other events like weightlifting, boxing and table tennis performed leaves a sour taste in the mouth. While it is equally true that Nigeria is yet to win a medal of any colour in table tennis at least our previous entrants had often battled their way past the early stages, unlike those that went to London and fell like nine pins in the first round. Even our pugilists faired no better even though it was boxing that fetched the nation her first ever Olympic medal way back at the 1964 Games in Tokyo courtesy of the late Nojim Maiyegun. Since Duncan Dokiwari won a bronze medal at Atlanta’96 no Nigerian has made a podium finish.
Nigeria entered for eight disciplines at London 2012 and so far none has even made a ripple talk much less of making a splash.
When as far back as March (a clear four months to the Olympics) I penned a piece captioned: ‘London 2012: A Time to Pray for Team Nigeria’; I received quite a number of text messages calling me all sorts of names for daring to point out how our poor build up for the Games could see our athletes just going on a trip to see the famous ‘London Bridge’.
Sadly while we all know the problem bedevilling sports in the country is funding; unfortunately like most things in Nigeria the situation is unlikely to change before the next major sporting event. After every previous competition Nigerian officials have repeatedly told us that they ‘have learnt their lessons’ and promised the nation that they would prepare better for the next outing. Of course we are all witnesses to how their words are not just sounding like ‘broken records’ because nothing seems to change. In the March piece I pointed out that funding was going to cost us dearly and although government did in the end cough out close to N2 billion for Team Nigeria for London 2012, it was more like the cart before the horse.
There is no way such a huge amount released so close to the Games would have any drastic impact on Team Nigeria because for such events consistent funding is the only way to produce quality Olympic athletes.
Athletes need to train over years and from a young age in order to develop into world beaters; unfortunately that is not the case here.
Just like almost everything Nigeria, ‘fire brigade’ approach is the name of the game.
However, let’s not forget that sport is only one of the many things competing for government’s attention. And the reality is good roads, medical facilities constant light will always be higher up on the agenda. But in spite of this, unless government is ready to translate words into action (even in lean times) we will continue to experience heartbreak in not only sports but virtually everything in the country.
Eleven years ago when China was awarded the right to host the 2008 Olympics, the communist nation had finished third on the medals table at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
While pulling out all the stops to show the world that they were now a force to be reckoned with by throwing up world class sporting venues (can we ever forget the eye-catching Bird’s Nest Stadium?) they were also determined to follow Nigeria’s example of ‘hosting to win.’
However, unlike Nigeria’s controversy tainted triumph when we hosted the 2003 All Africa Games, the Chinese easily dominated the medals table at Beijing winning 51 gold medals. While many Western countries raised eyebrows over some of the ages of the Chinese athletes (saying some of them were underage) the truth is that if they had not been properly groomed they still would not have done well no matter their ages.
According to some reports, the Chinese voted a staggering $100 billion on fast tracking their athletes and the dividends of this funding is paying off. With over 3,000 government funded elite sports clubs doting the vast country, the Chinese are continually churning out world class athletes. The Chinese have continued from where they left off at Beijing 2008 by so far dominating the medals table at London 2012.
Although things may still change in the week left for the Games, it is highly unlikely that China will finish outside the top two positions on the medals table by the time the Games close next Sunday.
However, here I would like to spare a thought for the British, who despite spending over â‚¤10 billion on the Games and trying their best to whip their athletes into shape, are still floundering badly in their quest to win medals. As at Thursday Team GB had only won two gold medals.
While it is clearly impossible for Nigeria to match China in terms of the money devoted to sports (in fact not many other countries can), the sooner we as a nation decide that we want to actually compete by investing properly in sports the sooner we will enjoy such events like the Olympics knowing that we have the athletes to compete against the best in the world and still bring joy to Nigerians.
And of course should this happen, then there will no longer be any need to listen to ‘broken record’ statements from our sports officials!