Former Nigerian international athlete, Dr Bruce Ijirigho, has called on Nigerian sports authorities to embrace grassroots sports developmental programme as a way of arresting the declining sports fortunes in the country.
Ijirigho spoke against the background of poor performances by Nigerian athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and coupled with the fact that prospective Nigerian junior athletes are being snatched by other countries.
He urged the sports ministry to take a good look at the grassroots sports initiative by former Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke and see if the programme could be implemented on a national scale in the next eight years.
“Based on my experience and what I went through as an athlete, I can conclude that our problem has always been management of our sports men and women.
“Finding them, nurturing them to the world level. As a country we have not been able to do this, that is why we have always had problems getting the right results at international sports contests and this is disgraceful,” he noted with sadness.
According to the former national 400m champion, Nigeria as a country abandoned the grassroots sports developmental programme left behind by the British colonialists, noting that that is why the country is lagging behind at international sports contests.
“I went to Jamaica to interview sports officials on three different occasions on how they were able to make gains in sports. I spoke to their sports minister, chairman of the Jamaica athletics and their coaches. I took notes.
“What they told me was that the structure that the British colonialists left behind in Nigeria, we did not maintain them, we allowed them to crumble. But they continued on their own and even built upon them. Some of their top stars from that programme who went abroad even came back home and contributed their experiences in the development of the sport there.”
He submitted that if the Cross River initiative could produce quality athletes including Edidiong Offonime who won gold in the world junior athletics championship and reached final of the Rio 2016 Olympics representing Bahrain, Nigeria could use the programme as a cornerstone for a sports revolution in the country.