By Onochie Anibeze
Sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi surely means well for our sports but he simply doesn’t get it. While lamenting on our failure at the 2012 London Olympics, the minister assured that Nigeria will win five gold medals at the next games in Rio de Janeiro and that the next Sports Festival in Lagos, the Eko 2012 Games will be the springboard for good performance in the next Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.
News on radio and television had it that the minister also said that Nigeria must win the next Nations Cup in South Africa and that if it means sacking the technical crew to do so the sacking should be done without delay. I will not take on the minister on this since his office has denied that he ever made such a statement. Better.
But it will still be good for him to understand the state of our sports including football.
Our sports is down and out. And we reaped what we sowed in London. It is only football, through the programme Stephen Keshi and his crew introduced that we are trying to rebuild. However, that is not even total because we are rebuilding from the top.
It is wrong. But Keshi is only playing his part. Others should play theirs too. The rebuilding should start from the schools, the academies, U-17 and U-20. The problems we have now in soccer would not be there if we had serious programmes at these levels. But we talk so much and do nothing. Keshi was appointed Super Eagles coach, he consulted some people and started a programme to identify and train local players after many foreign-based players disappointed over time.
The fact is that Nigeria lacks top class players even in Europe and our continued reliance on them exposed us to the reality when we could not even qualify for the last Nations Cup. And now that Keshi has started rebuilding from the top, it is the responsibility of the minister of sports and his education counterpart to ensure that rebuilding starts from schools from where the Nigeria Football Federation will key in.
And winning the Nations Cup in South Africa may be possible but considering the state of our football and the ongoing rebuilding process it will be difficult, somewhat uphill task. A semi-final or final outing is possible after which we may begin to dream of lifting the cup in 2015. A cup victory will be a surprise.
I say the same to the sports minister on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It will be shear magic to win five gold medals in Brazil. It will not be possible for Nigeria to achieve that. It simply means that those who tutored Bolaji to promise five gold medals do not have a grasp of what it takes to win Olympic gold. In some organized countries that may be possible. But I can’t say that of my beloved country. Bad.
First, I want to ask Bolaji from which sports will the gold medals come? Football? Shall we qualify? It could be possible if we qualify and field over-aged players. Track and field? Who will win gold from there? Blessing Okagbare? We went to the London Games banking on one person to win gold for us. Blessing got to the final of 100m and for somebody who had just run sub 11 seconds for the first time one week to the games we expected too much from her. She did well in London.
All the medal winners were already sub 11 seconds runners. Blessing will be 27 at the next games in Brazil and I suggest she concentrates on Long Jump then but for now she can go on with her 100m for I see her making impact in this area in the next one or two years.
But will she run for Nigeria? Will athletes continue to spend their money preparing for the games? Will government not release money a month or two to the games and expect wonders? Can corruption be a thing of the past in our sports? How possible will that be when corruption is the order of the day in other sectors? Are those who run Nigerian sports not Nigerians and part of the system?
Will the money voted for sports be spent on sports? Shall we not have our top ministry officials staying in places like Savoy Hotel where the least room rate is 1,500 pounds (About N397,500) a day? Shall we continue to bank on the annual budget before we plan for competitions like the Olympic Games? Can’t those who run our sports find an answer to the practice of returning all unspent monies to the Accountant General of the Federation?
Can’t they tie monies to projects and stop finding alibi in financial regulations? Can we have a true National Sports Commission that will be run by experts with integrity? Can we have a policy that will make physical education a must in our secondary schools like Jamaica did? Can our schools have sports curricula and sports grounds made a must in our schools?
Can we introduce competitions at all levels, from community to zonal and regional, state and national levels for age grade levels so that our Sports Festival will be our own Olympics where our best compete?
Until some of these things are done, the festival cannot be our springboard to great performance in sports and Nigeria may never win five gold medals in one Olympic Games. Is the sports minister reading this? Those who wrote the script of five gold medals in one Olympics should tell him Onochie Anibeze said it is not possible because of the way we run sports.