Nigeria, After the Beijing Games

Its two months after the Beijing Olympics and a few weeks after the Paralympics and the Nigerian Government has not made any comments on the athlete’s performance nor organized a reception for them. I have seen the Jamaican athletes, the Kenyans, the British contingent and others warmly received and honoured by their Country heads on television. The fact that we did not win any Olympic gold does not mean that these young men and women should not be received or encouraged. Furthermore the physically challenged athletes of the Paralympics gave a good account of themselves.

The Paralympians made us proud by clinching four gold medals in addition to four silvers medals and one bronze medal. Ruel Ishaku, Njideka Iyiazi and Ejike Lucy made Nigerian’s proud by clinching four gold medals for Nigeria, with Njideka winning two, while Adesoji Adekunle, Victoria Nneji, Grace Anozie and Obioma Aligekwe won for themselves and our dear country four silver medals. Patience Igbiti was the lone bronze medallist from Nigeria.

I commend all the athletes and want to state that, though, I did not spend the money I saved, to give myself a treat, if our Olympic athletes win a gold medal; I did spend it when we got our first gold medal in the Paralympics. I did have a swell day, not at McDonalds or KFC but in my own room with a meal of garri and a loaded egusi soup. I commend my friend Alhaji Ali, who gave me a gift, that I treasured, almost as much as a gold medal-a 5kg bag of garri from Nigeria!

The curtains have been drawn down, the fireworks have lost their sparkle, the players have all gone back to their abodes; but the glitz and glamour of the Beijing Olympics will continue to be talked about for some more time.

Die hard adherents of the Chiinese culture will definitely claim that the number 8 brought them a good deal of luck at the just concluded Beijing 2008 Olympics. The games was glamorous, well organized and the host country had a gold medal haul, topping the medals tables at the end of the sports fiesta.

The games started on an interesting date, 08/08/2008 at exactly 8:08 pm with a most colourful opening ceremony. The ceremony was so technically sophisticated that instead of stirring up fun in the spectators and audience who glued onto their televisions, it put the observers in a state of awe. It was perfect and serious. However the closing ceremony was more light hearted and exciting. It heralded the handing over of the games from Beijing to London. With the comic like display of the Londoners, it appears that the world should expect a more fun Olympic games in 2012.

One, must commend the Chinese populace for their hospitality and the spirit they displayed all through the games. It was a matter of sacrifice from all quarters. Many Chinese had to learn some English words and sentences in order to reach out to the august visitors. The citizens were advised to dress in not more than 3 shades of colour while they displayed a great deal of mannerism which could be compared to the type Nigeria had, in the Buhari-Idiagbon era of War Against indiscipline (WAI). Months before the Olympics, a picture of a sad man being punished for spitting on the streets was in the papers. He was made to stand on a platform, under the scorching sun for several minutes if not hours.

The Games, saw 43 new world records and 132 new Olympic records, set. A record 87 countries won a medal during the Games. Incredible Olympic icons like Michael Phelps lived up to expectations while the world was stunned by the emergence of a thunderbolt in the sprints, ‘Usain Bolt’ who set new world records in the 100m and 200m events. Yelena Isinbayeva, the Russian pole vaulter, seen as the best female pole vaulter in history, in a world of her own set her 24th world record in the Beijing Olympics. They was a great display of drama as numerous and unexpected batons fell, at the exchange zone in the athletics relays. Lionel Messi lived up to pre-tournament expectations, at the expense of the Nigerian resilient Dream Team IV as he pioneered his countrymen to clinch the soccer gold medal.

Nigerian athletes gave a fair account of themselves as they did not perform as bad as most of us thought they will do, based on the shabby preparations, prior to the Olympics. Personally, as a full blooded Nigerian, my star of the games is Sammy Siasia, the coach of the Nigerian soccer team. He has proven himself to be a seasoned coach. With a soccer silver medal after a gruelling finals , Nigerians, instead of complaining or talking about going back to the drawing board; were full of praises for the young lads. If there is something more Samson Siasia should learn, it will not just be how to win a crucial final game at the world stage, but how to beat Argentina, with or without t Messi.

It was as if beautiful Blessing Okagbare came from the blues to give us a bronze medal in the long jump event. The lady shows a lot of promise and I advise her not to relent. She will even need to receive tips from Chioma Ajunwa, the police woman who gave Nigeria her first Olympic Gold. I barely knew of what was going on in the long jump event only for my friend Kelechi to send me an SMS ’We don win gold for long jump’ and like Usain Bolt, with a great speed, I searched through the internet to discover that it was the lady Blessing ,who, gave us this blessing that opened the door for us in the medals table.

The 4x100m women quartet of Faith Idoko, Gloria Kemasuode, Halimat Ismaila and Damola Osayomi saved our face in our traditional medal hope-the tracks by giving us the bronze medal. Thank goodness for the faulty baton exchange of the cheetah like running Jamaicans and the Great Britain team, but that was not just it; Damola Osayomi ran a race of her life to cap up the race to win us a medal. For the men, I just wonder if I didn’t pray enough. Guys! Put your acts together, the fact that US dropped their baton shouldn’t be an excuse. Uche Emedolu, Chinedu Oriala, Onyeabor ‘’Ukwujioso’’ Nwogu and Obinna Metu should look onto the future after a regrettable baton dropping. Likewise for Olusoji Fasugba, who was saved for 4x100m men’s finals that never came.

Chika Ygazie Chukwumerije who toured almost around the world in preparation to the games did give us something to cheer for-an Olympic bronze medl. Indeed, I must comment his father, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, for investing into his son’s sporting prowess.

The scintillating performance of Britain, who sent their citizens back home in frenzy by winning 14 gold medals, the best in their Olympics history, was remarkable. Britain had won only a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. Kenya also won only one gold medal at the 1996 games in Atlanta. However it was a different ball game in Beijing for Kenya as they clinched five gold medals.

Almost all the 32 Chinese athletes who won medals in Athens 2004 Olympic Games, including Chen Yanqing, came from the nation’s system of elite athletic boarding schools. The primary recruiting grounds for those schools is the poor countryside, where some 700 million of China’s 1.3 billion citizens dream of joining the nation’s economic renaissance. Some of these athletes have spent a third of their lives in these spots academies which could be likened to normal schools except for their major scope which is sports. This system helped China to achieve a great feat in the just concluded Olympics. It is interesting to note that at the Se0ul 1988 Olympics, China won five gold medals compared to its 51 at the just concluded Olympics. Most of these outstanding athletes who came from the inner cities have helped to lift their impoverished families out of poverty through their outstanding achievements.

The British contingent set a target for the Beijing games, four years ago which they surpassed. They took responsibility after their dismal outing at the 1996 Olympics. Ever since then, huge amounts of lottery funding which came into place after the Atlanta Olympics was poured into sports like sailing, cycling and rowing where technology can make the difference unlike many of the traditional track events .The athletes confirmed that team spirit and team work was one of their success secrets. The contingent will have a victory parade in London on October 16th.

This has given us the best possible insight into what makes successful Olympic Games – from venue construction to security, from the latest broadcasting technology to how to integrate the greatest show on earth with its host city.

It will not be too sophisticated or expensive for Nigeria to set useful and well planned sports achievement targets. We have the bundle of talents and we have the resources. Setting such targets and working towards it would rather curb waste. Prior to the last Olympic Games, the funds for the games were disbursed at a very late hour. In fact, only some athletes that invested a lot of money and time in training on their own and selfless coaches were able to win medals for Nigeria in the last Olympics. Some critics may point out that reasonable money should not be committed to sports because of the many mouths we have to feed in Nigeria while others may say that sports development or sports achievement plan may not be part of the plan of Alhaji Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda. Permit me to ask these questions;

With the high rate of unemployment and crime in Nigeria, will sports not serve as a means of keeping our youths occupied or gainfully employed?

Will good planning and proper funding not bring honour to our sportsmen and women?

Is it proper to allow the multitude of sporting talents that abound in Nigeria untapped?

Are sports development, grooming and nurturing of athletes not a means of youth empowerment?

Can we deny that successful sportsmen have greatly imparted the society by serving as role models to the young, breadwinners in their families, granting scholarships and sporting opportunities for the amateurs, helping the down trodden amongst other s?

Has sports not served as a unifying factor, in Nigeria-multi ethnic and religious nation?

Does it not bring joy to us and national honour, when our athletes excel?

No doubt, Nigerians may be so disappointed with a litany of non-impressive performances by our athletes in various competitions but we are aware that most of these misfortunes were caused by insensitivity of either our sporting authorities, the government, and on a few occasions by the athletes themselves. Some allegations that some football club owners prevent their games to be beamed by television in order not to show their malpractices should be seriously investigated, this is because putting our soccer games on television will make Nigerian football league to gain more interest and followership.

Nigerians love sports and football in particular. Efforts should be made to lift the standard of sports in the country. Private sector partnership and participation should be further encouraged. As it is now, the bulk lies on the government to improve funding and make sure that such funds are disbursed as at when due. A time has come to fix the square pegs in square holes, thus, appointing politicians who have no pedigree in sports to head our sports ministry or commission should be stopped.

This is a challenge that our sports loving President Umar Musa Yar’Adua must face and champion, while we wait for him to give our deserving Olympic and Paralympic athletes a befitting reception.

The Olympics and Paralympics have gone and gone, but Nigerian Sports authorities and government seem to have gone back to the slumber it is known for; where the athletes have neither been received officially nor have any plans been set in place for better sporting outings.

Written by
Okey Egboluche
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