The ghosts of the past once again embrace the preparations for the games

In one of those extraordinary stories for which Nigeria has become familiar, especially in the football world, the Under-23 national team, popularly called the Dream Team, last Friday defeated the Japanese side five goals to four at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil. Typically, the team had been stranded in the United States for days, following flights cancellation over money matters, before eventually taking off on the morning of the game. The squad landed in Brazil less than seven hours before the match which they went on to win. Last Sunday night, the team qualified for the quarterfinals by defeating Sweden in their second match.

Like the previous competitions, the preparation of our country for the 2016 Rio Olympics which opened last Friday amid pomp was to say the least, lousy. Former athlete, Mary Onyali, summed up the situation last month when she said: “We have failed to plan to win: we want to win and then plan, and it is not possible. When other nations are planning to win, we are praying. It is going to be a tough battle because you don’t pick a medal.” Table tennis player, Segun Toriola, who is making history with his seventh Olympics in Brazil, also added his voice at the time: “I don’t think we have ever had it so bad.”

However, the competitions have started and we can only wish Team Nigeria well. In this age of global economic turmoil, it is comforting that sports still provide that elixir and entertainment for the whole world to come together as a community of human family. Indeed, the spirit of the Olympics dates back to ancient Greece when wars were suspended so that the city states could come together and compete. That is what is now being recreated as thousands of athletes from all over the world aspire to win gold, silver and bronze medals in a ritual that happens every four years.
Since the 1952 Games in Helsinki, Finland, Nigeria has been taking part in the Olympic Games with mixed results. In the 15 games our country has participated in (it would have been 16, but Nigeria pulled out of the 1976 Montreal Games in protest over New Zealand’s hobnobbing with then apartheid South Africa), Nigeria has won a total of 23 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. The nation’s most successful Olympics participation to date remains Atlanta’96 in the United States where we won two gold medals, one by the football team and the other by Chioma Ajunwa, now a respected senior police officer.

However, while we hope for a successful outing for our athletes, the fact that their build up to the 16-day sporting fiesta in Brazil was shoddy once again brings to the fore the recurring issue of funding whenever the nation is preparing for a major tournament. For the Rio Olympics, money was released when the games were months away. If the money was released much earlier, perhaps as early as last year, it would have gone a long way in properly preparing Team Nigeria athletes for the current Olympic Games. With that also, the athletes would have left for Brazil confident that they would do well.

Notwithstanding this anomaly which we hope government will address in future competitions, we urge Team Nigeria to do their best, while comporting themselves in such a manner that will not expose the country to ridicule and scandal as has been the case in some previous games. We wish all the Nigerian athletes and their officials a successful outing at the Rio Olympics.