By Onochie Anibeze
I have to tell this story to President Goodluck Jonathan for he is also the patron of Nigeria Olympic Committee.
I was in Calabar where Nigeria held their track and field Olympic trials.
One morning I spent sometime with Blessing Okagbore, Nigeria’s brightest prospect at the London Olympics. Blessing won for Nigeria her first medal at the Beijing Olympics. Let me briefly introduce Blessing to the President with this short profile:
Bronze 2008 Beijing Long jump
Gold 2011 Maputo Long jump
Silver 2011 Maputo 100 m
Silver 2011 Maputo 4×100 m
Gold 2010 Nairobi 100 m
Gold 2010 Nairobi Long jump
Silver 2012 Benin 100 m
Bronze 2010 Split 100 m
Long jump 6.97m
100m 11.00 seconds
If Blessing were to be a footballer with similar achievements she would always receive queenly treatment everywhere in Nigeria including the Presidency. But she is not a footballer. But for the assistance from Delta State and she would have probably changed nationality and could be competing for another country now. In Calabar, Blessing told me how painful and frustrating it has been competing for Nigeria.
“When you compete for Nigeria you just have to inspire yourself. If you depend on the country you develop terrible feelings that will make you fail. I have tried to always motivate myself. I won bronze in Beijing. I ran in the heats for the 4×100 m relay team that won bronze. When I meet athletes from other countries who won medals or those who got to the finals and find out what their performances were worth I feel empty.
I feel terrible. Their countries have rewarded them. I wonder what we have done wrong. Did we do wrong by competing for Nigeria in Beijing? They promised to reward us if we won any medals in Beijing.
We did but up till today they are yet to fulfill their promise. At the last All Africa Games I ran with injury. I jumped with pain even when my coach advised against me competing.
I went against my coach to win gold for Nigeria. My coach told me that I must have been insane because I risked my career by competing with that injury. My career was almost over. It was a stupid thing to do.
But do you know that Nigeria did not even pay for my medical bills that time? I think, truly, that I was in insane at the time. How can a sane person risk her career for nothing or for a country that does not appreciate her no matter what you give back? Perhaps I was insane.
But now that I have my sanity back, I think I will consider my health before doing anything. I really don’t know if I’ll run the relays in London. I will do 100m and the Long Jump and I don’t know if my body will be strong enough to do the relays. We will see how it goes but based on the treatment I have received from Nigeria I am not excited about the relays.”
Blessing’s story touched me. I felt bad about the humiliation athletes from sports other than football go through in Nigeria. Blessing spoke not only for herself but also for other athletes. One week after this chat Nigeria won the Africa Athletics Championships in Benin Republic. The last time they did so was about 12 years ago.
What they won was the equivalent to the soccer
Nations Cup. They are Africa’s champions. As you read this, the Federal Government has not even issued an official statement congratulating them what more rewarding them. If it were football you and I know the euphoria that would have gripped the country and its government by now. Yes, I know it was not football which I agree is our number one sport but don’t these athletes deserve a pat on the back? And this happening just before the Olympics is the BEST way not to encourage the athletes. I totally condemn the Federal Government’s indifference to other sports in the country. They were not even aware that we are African champions in athletics until the minister of sports Bolaji Abdullahi told them in the last Executive Council Meeting. They merely congratulated him and it ended there. Bolaji hopes that things will change with time.
I hope so but their attitude is not encouraging. And going by the money they released to the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (just above N100m) they have failed the athletes and the federation. This is why Blessing and other athletes will continue to lament. This is why you see many Nigerians competing for other countries. This is why any medal Nigeria wins in London will be a surprise to me. If any comes, it will be by sheer individual effort of the athletes and not as a result of our preparation.
I hope that Blessing changes her mind and competes in the relays for they remain our slight chance of winning a medal in London. For the sake of the spirit of Olympism, for herself and for the records let her give her all in London for a win will not only be for the country but also for her profile. The fame and opportunities that could follow will surely be rewarding if not in Nigeria, in the athletics world. I say same to other athletes too. Give your all in London no matter the failings of Nigeria. You can win for yourself and not for Nigeria.