By Patrick Omorodion
When Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, founded theÂ modern Olympics in 1896, the slogan then was â€˜joy in participationâ€™ as countries were happy being part of it, even if they donâ€™t win any medal.Â But over the years, most countries began to shy away from that, believing that sports, more than politics, is a better national image launderer.
The strong sports countries like the United States, Australia, Germany and recently China have talents across many sports and thus present athletes in various disciplines, knowing they are capable of winning medals in almost all of them.
For Nigeria, a believer in the more-the- merrier slogan, it does not matter whether they have prospects in the sports they enter for any Games, what matters is how many athletes they are able to take, as it will in turn determine how many officials, irrespective of the duties there, will attend to earn estacodes at the expense of tax payers.
This practice took a turn for the worse between 1992 and 2008, except for the brief period of 2002 and 2004 when a new lease of life was given to sports with the appointment of Chief Patrick Ekeji as Director of Sports Development.
In those days, some athletes were dropped for relations and or friends of serving government officials, because the man in-charge at the time just wanted to curry favour from those who will keep him permanently on the job, irrespective of whether sports developed in the country or not.
Aside the big sporting countries, some other smaller ones like Jamaica, Kenya, Cuba andÂ Belarus among others concentrate their efforts in their areas of strength and expectedly always win medals to rank among top medal winning countries.
According to a report by Bill Giggs in 2008, while USA, China and Russia scooped up to 59 per cent of the gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jamaica, with an economy ranked 108 in the world, through her sprinters, won nine medals, five of them gold. Of these five gold medals, Usain Bolt, won three in 100m, 200m and the joint 4x100m relay.
Steve Roush, the U.S. Olympic Committeeâ€™s chief of sport performance wrote that â€œsmaller countries that are able to target and focus their resources on a relatively small number of sports/events can compete for medals on the international landscape.
He added that â€œYou can see from the medal table, it doesnâ€™t take enormous numbers to get into the top 10. The biggest surprise is the Jamaican team.â€
Chief Ekejiâ€™s second coming into the National Sports Commission (NSC) where he has now risen to the position of Director-General may be the tonic the country needs to join the league of countries which maximise their potentials to rank high on the medal table.
With a new sports minister/Chairman of the NSC, Engineer Sani Ndanusa,Â a man who has been in sports and knows what it takes to do well in competitions, Chief Ekeji has mapped the road-map for the NSC to follow in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, the 2011 All Africa Games as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
For these Games as well as the World Championships in the various sports, the NSC has picked six sports namely Athletics, Weightlifting, Wrestling, Para-sports (athletics, power-lifting & wheel chair tennis), Boxing and Taekwondo to concentrate on.
Towards this end therefore, the NSC has initiated a reward system for athletes, coaches and States Sports Council administrators of these sports. This include payment of several thousands of dollars for gold, silver and bronze as well as the benchmark amount for each of the category.
Because the NSC cannot raise all the money required for this new strategy to motivate athletes and coaches for optimum performance, Chief Ekeji said recently that the NSC is wooing corporate organisations to partner with it to raise funds to be able to carry out this laudable programme.
â€œThe policy thrust of the present administration is to drive sports administration with the embrace of best practices through Public-Private Partnership (PPP). This arrangement is aimed at providing a level-playing ground and enabling environment for private sector investment in sports.