Sports Development in Nigeria: The Charlton Ehizuelen Story

by Sadiq A. Abdullahi

Why Minister of Sports Should Seek Diaspora’s Contribution to Sports Development in Nigeria: The Charlton Ehizuelen Story

Every year since 2009, I have traveled to Nigeria and met with three ministers of sports ( Ndanusa, Suleiman, and briefly with the current Minister Abdullahi) and the director-general (Ekeji) and his deputy (Yalkmut) to discuss some of the challenges sports administrators and managers face in implementing programs in Nigeria. The idea here is that ex-international players living in the Diaspora are ready to contribute to sports development in Nigeria.

The Charlton Ehizuelen’s Story is unique. I have been discussing issues and problems within the context of sports development in Nigeria with Charlton for the past 5 years. Here is the story:

Sixteen years ago in 1996 in Atlanta USA, Nigeria produced the best Olympic results since our first outing in 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. We won our first Olympic gold medal in the women’s long jump event when Chioma Ajunwa proved to the world, once again, that Nigerians are indeed great jumpers. In response to Chioma’s gold medal, the national soccer team, the Super Eagles, surprisingly won another gold medal. At the close of the games, the medal count for Nigeria was: Gold-2 Silver-1 Bronze-3 a total of 6 medals, breaking the previous record of 4 medals.

The current commitment level towards sports development and competitions in the country may have been a reflection of the expectations that the nation experienced in the past decade, through the performances the nation earned in international competitions. Being a part of a winning team creates excitement and the commitment to support improved performances for the future. This winning spirit becomes ingrained as a way of life for those who are completely committed to a successful program.

After l read about President Goodluck Jonathan’s challenge to State Governors to help the nation to win medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics, I said to myself, here comes a direct challenge. I considered this a personal challenge because l know that l can definitely do this: to help Nigeria win a gold medal in the long and triple jump events. This will finally lift off the pain that l have had to endure all these years. In 1976 after spending a week and half in the Olympic Games village in Montreal Canada, ready to win Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medal, with the best jump in the world under my belt. The Nigerian government told us a day before the opening ceremony that we had to return back to Nigeria, because they had decided to boycott the games in protest against the South Africa apartheid regime. Then two years later in Algiers, Algeria after winning two gold medals in the Long and triple jump events at the All African games. The same government again flew into Algiers, and at the Airport we were told that we won’t be attending the Commonwealth games in Edmonton, Canada. Within two years l had become a part of two of Nigeria’s boycott to major World Competitions.

The current Nigerian mindset towards sports development needs to be renewed, re-educated and reinforced. Educating the Nigerian population on the need to include some form of sports participation as part of a daily regimen, could help increase mass participation across the board. Individuals should be encouraged to join a club or form their own groups in sports participation for at least twice a week.

Nations where sports participation is a part of a national agenda, tend to encourage and support youth sports participation that creates capacity for optimal performance level in competitive athleticism. This is how the youth’s population becomes an important part of sports development programs, that tend to impact the youth for both short and long term planning process and eventually becomes a way of life.

A patriotic mindset and the tenacity to represent ones nation with complete commitment, pride and with a big heart is something that begins with how you truly feel about your country. It is probably one of biggest reasons that drives the Americans, Jamaicans, Britons and even the Kenyans to the winning streaks that takes them to the podium in major competitions such as the Olympic Games and the World championships every time they compete.

As a nation, l wish we could do a better job in promoting who we are by using our outstanding performances in sports, science art, medicine etc. Nigeria is a nation that is well known around the world with tremendous potentials in many endeavors, it is not uncommon to travel overseas and be faced with questions like, what happened to sprints and jumps in Nigeria. In sport we have truly established our mark globally, we have been winning world titles even before we gained our independence in 1960.Nigeria have done well in Athletics in the Jumps, Sprints and Relays, we have won world titles in Boxing, Weight Lifting, Wrestling, Taekwondo, Table Tennis, and in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic games Nigeria became the first African nation to win an Olympic gold medal in soccer. We have built enough accolades and success stories in sports since independence; we must begin to use them to promote our vision and aspirations. It is a sports capital power that we have already earned, and it should be included every time as part of the package when proposing any type sport developmental initiatives.

The question is- why aren’t we using our victories to promote who we are, we currently have a youth population that has no reason whatsoever to make sacrifices to serve the only country they have ever known. The Nigeria youth population is estimated at about 68%, human capital strength of the future that can benefit the nation if properly managed. We need to invest in our youth’s population, using the right messaging to show, what we have achieved as a nation by regularly showing success stories to illustrate how important it is to succeed through hard work using fellow Nigerians as examples. This is what successful nations do all the time, using citizen’s success stories first, to show what can be achieved if they work hard and stay committed. Some would argue that the case in Nigeria is not the same, because Nigeria does not take care of its own. I will agree, that is why talking points and actions are what we require today to boldly effect changes.

We can spend all the money in the world in trying to produce champions in the Nigerian sports arena, but without changing the way we treat and show case successes and outstanding performances, it will simply be like putting the cart before the horse. Once in a while we might achieve victories from time to time, rather than have a solid control over our winning strategy, we could continue to find ourselves struggling to win. The perception and mindset of competitors in sports just like in many other endeavors, is key to great performances especially if the athlete is healthy, tough mentally and in top shape. It seems to me that we took a good strategy that worked for us, for a long time and dismantled it without a replacement.

Nigeria has suffered greatly from disconnect that has existed between our sports history and our current performances. We need to recognize the fact that our history was created for a reason and that the best of our future truly lies on how we are able to manage historical events and pass it on from one generation to the other. ln sports process, discovery, development, maintenance, competition and retention are areas that can be so simplified by design and implementation, but you must understand and know how to work it. Every stage requires the right team combination of coaches, administrators, sports medicine, trainers, sports psychologist, volunteers, supporters and of course reliable source for sponsorships, in cohesiveness with one goal in mind. This is to produce the best from the available pool of athletic streams from grass-root to elite performances for both the male and the fem

ale category.

The Nigerian stakeholders in sports is global, we have partnership in the USA, in Europe, Asia, etc that means if we are serious about effecting changes that are true to our vision and desires. We must engage anyone who is committed to come to the table, with something specific to offer. Trust me, no nation will be glad to relinquish the best minds in Coaching and other expertise, to another in other to risk the possibility of losing to a competitor. That brings me to the quality of our work force, a quality work force with the proper training that focuses on specific area is necessary. This is how serious programs can track coaches, administrators, sports medicine etc., regarding performances and accountability.

If we had paid attention as a nation, our performances in 1996 would have clearly given us a leverage on where our strength lies, in winning medals in the big championships such as the Olympic Games and the World championships. Upon returning back to Nigeria, we should have begun immediately to reinforced our strong assets by formulating a winning strategy that would have continued the trend of victory from the Atlanta .Scientific research have shown in sports development that it takes between 10-12 years of talent development to reach elite level of optimal performance. In today’s Olympic performances, the results are showing us that Olympic champions are becoming younger than in previous years. This explains why it is absolutely important that we start the process of talent development at an early age, usually as early as 7 years. l grew up in a society that encouraged early participation in sports in the north, it was an era when we went to elementary school expecting a 30-45 minutes recess set aside each day for play and fun. This was the moment when the youths tend to show off the latest skill that has been acquired in running, playing soccer, climbing, jumping etc.

In the USA at any given time, the United States of America Track and Field Federation(USATF), of which l am a member, can boost of more than 7000 youths, who are placed in classifications that allow them to automatically graduate to the next class, based on their age identification. With access to more than 250 competitions across the nation at the National Junior Olympics, young athletes know that competitions are there to gauge where they are and the progress they are making. However, it is important that coaches understands which sport requires early or late specialization for the purpose of designing the proper training to fit the desired goal.

The 2016 Olympic Games is less than four years to go in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, it will be the first time a South American nation will be hosting the games. President Goodluck Jonathan would like to see Nigeria win 36 medals, of which he expects 5 of them to be gold medals. He has asked the state Governors to help produce at least a medal. While the states Governors are formulating ways to achieve this feat, l will also suggest that they consider the improvement of the infrastructures they already have in place, to meet with the required current international standards. This is yet another appeal from the Diaspora to the Minister Bolaji Abdullahi to endeavor to involve sports men and women in the Diaspora in the process of rebuilding sports in Nigeria.

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