By Onochie Anibeze
Two days after the final of the 100m for women Dr. Emmanuel Udughan, the Governor of Delta State was on line to the Nigerian camp at the London Olympics.
Nigeria had gone to the Olympics banking on only one athlete for a possible gold medal. That was how bad things had gone for a country of over 150 million people. Only Blessing Okagbare could be referred to a world class athlete going by her bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics and the progress she had made in the in the run-up to the Olympics.
She had run some good races, beating the best in the world in Crystal Palace (10.99 seconds) and in Monaco (10.96 seconds) just one week to the London games.
Expectations were high. Many dreamed Olympic medal from this Delta athlete. But on the day it mattered most Blessing raced to a place at the back and not in front. Pity she said she had a cramp.
Nigeria’s dream crashed with her. This pained Uduaghan. He had supported Blessing and other athletes as part of his contribution to Nigeria’s participation at the Olympics.
He paid some Olympic bound athletes training grants, he hosted an athletics event in Warri largely to prepare them and personally encouraged and motivated the athletes. And when Blessing crashed in the 100m final Uduaghan called to still inspire her and boost the morale of the Nigerian contingent.
No other Nigerian leader showed the kind of interest Uduaghan demonstrated before and during the London Olympics. It was after chatting with Blessing that he nursed the idea of a sports summit. It was borne out of his sheer passion for sports. It was borne out of sheer patriotism for motherland.
He watched on television as Nigerian athletes crashed in all events. Track and field produced some finalists. Other sports failed woefully.
“What is happening to Nigeria’s sports?” the governor asked this reporter on phone shortly after the chat with Okagbare. “I think that Nigerians don’t know how deep the rot in our sports is,” he continued. “We are no longer developing athletes and the problem started when the federal government took over schools.
Sports in schools died thereafter. I think that what we can do is that after the Olympics, you could invite some of your colleagues and, together with Amaju (Pinnick), you people should bring some experts, let’s gather in a room, brainstorm, discuss our past in sports, the present and proffer solution that can reshape our future. It is important we do this to help our country move forward in sports because the world has left us behind.”
I thanked the governor for his interest in Nigeria’s sports.
I reminded him that there had been so many reports in the past but the problem has always been implementation. It is a Nigerian problem, I told him. He hissed and said “you people should go ahead and come out with a brilliant report. I will personally take it to the President for study and possible implementation.
It will be our contribution to sports development in Nigeria. It is not good to give up because we failed in the past. In sports you never give up. Let’s see how we can get sports back to schools and develop a good structure and system that will produce great athletes again.” This sounds a script for the summit.
I returned from the Olympics and Amaju Pinnick, the Executive Chairman of Delta State Sports Commission reminded me of the challenge Dr. Uduaghan had thrown to us.
The plans for a sports summit that will suggest the way for a new direction for sports in Nigeria started. And the next time the governor spoke on the Olympics he was congratulating people who went to the London games for not winning a medal.
He was being satirical. He said that if Nigeria had won a medal or two the deplorable state of sports in Nigeria could have probably been covered up and Nigerians would not realise that it was time some drastic measures were taken to rescue the industry. He is passionate about the way forward for Nigerian sports and regretted that the way the National Sports Festival is currently organised does not help the growth of sports and actual development of an athlete.
And so on October 30, 2012 at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja, Delta State government will host a sports summit that will not delve so much on the wrongs of the past but on the way forward. It will not be aimed at anybody but issues that can make our sports grow. The governor does not intend to malign or attack anybody including those who have failed woefully in the administration of sports in the country.
His interest is on the way forward and that’s what the summit intends to achieve. I’m making this an issue because I have feelers that the National Sports Commission is scared that the summit will descend on them with utmost alacrity and tear them apart for Nigeria’s failure.
I know that the National Sports Commission has failed Nigeria. But why did they fail? Was it entirely their fault when money is always released a month or two to events like the Olympic Games? And since it is the tradition here to release money late why have they not devised a means to work the system? Is it the National Sports Commission that stopped sports in schools in Nigeria?
But why have they not tried to liaise with the ministry of education to reintroduce sports in our schools and set up a structure that will monitor schools sports with a view to nurturing the talents so discovered? What have they done with regard to policies that can change sports in Nigeria? But must all blames go to the NSC and Sports Ministry?
I don’t think so.
The summit will not be a success if it delves into what is already known by all. Most Nigerians know why we are not doing well in sports. The summit will try to emphasize on what should be done and the way to do it.
The summit will suggest a way for the sports ministry to plan even under current financial regulations and fiscal policies of government. The summit will draw the experience of countries that have shown the way in sports. The summit will parade quality resource persons from home and abroad.
The summit will involve the sports ministry and NSC. The summit is just Delta’s contribution to sports in Nigeria. Delta is the leading state in sports in Nigeria and there’s nothing wrong in leading Nigeria out of the doldrums. The summit is being driven by Uduaghan’s passion for sports and not the spirit to witch-haunt anybody.
Those who run our sports should embrace it as it is for national interest and not targeted at them although President Jonathan has spoken of an overhaul of the sports sector. I believe that this should be to correct the system and not to attack individuals. And this is what the summit will crave to achieve.
This man has served sports all his life – as a player, coach, instructor, tennis umpire, organiser, author etc. I have a chapter from his book that will interest you. I will serve you this soon. Watch out.