As Nigeria rolls out the red carpet to celebrates its 56th independence Anniversary today, stakeholders in the sports sector have frowned at the negative role that administrators have played in the seeming poor performance posted by athletes in their respective fields.
While some renowned sports buffs hailed the athletes for managing to eke out something from nothing against their better-prepared opponents from organised climes and systems, a few frowned at the conduct of the same athletes in putting selfish interest above national interest at major international tournaments.
In a year, where the country was only able to win one bronze medal, courtesy of the most-vilified men’s soccer side, coached by Samson Siasia, at the Rio Olympic Games, Nigerians are deeply worried with the inability of administrators to properly manage the talents that dot the length and breadth of the country’s landscape.
Against the backdrop of the poor planning by the Ministry of Sports headed by Solomon Dalung, who has shown his poor understanding of the dynamics of sports management, there is a growing fear that the ship of Nigerian sports can drift further into oblivion if the sports technocrats are not employed to man the sector.
And speaking in an interview with Sports Vanguard, a former fastest woman in Africa, Mary Onyali said the slip leaves much to be desired of a country that prides itself as Giant of Africa. ‘
“We ought, if we take into account the talented athletes we have in Nigeria, to be at the top. But sadly, we are going down, on a daily basis and this trend is worrisome as well as killing the drive for excellence by the athletes”, said Onyali.
1980 African Cup of Nations winner, Segun Odegbami said he was bewildered by the continuing downward movement of Nigerian sports.
Going down memory lane to the glory years of Nigerian sports, the former IICC dare-devil striker condemned administrators for paying lip-service to sports development at all levels of the game.
’The journey of Nigeria in sports from Independence was a great one and Nigeria flourished in it. We did well in virtually all sports ranging from Long Jump, Boxing, Tennis, Table Tennis,Track and Field and others. Nigeria produced sparkling results from an equally sparkling, determined and selfless athletes.
“The likes of Emmanuel lfeajuna who won a gold medal in high jump during the Commonwealth Games in 1954, Hogan Kid Bassey who became the world featherweight boxing champion in 1957 and Dick Tiger, who won the middleweight crown and later the world light heavyweight crown, Samuel Peter who won the Heavyweight Boxing title readily come to mind. At the second All-Africa Games, the Green Eagles won the gold medal of the football event as well as the 1980 Nations Cup.
“It was not until the 80’s that we started declining slowly. The administrators failed to arrest the decline. It was the infrastructure of the 80s that sustained us up to ’90 to ’94. Football has always managed to save us”, added Odegbami.
The former head of the National Institute for Sports in Lagos however pointed out that Nigeria can come out of the woods by taking the following steps:
‘’We need brand new people, genuine sports people to take over the administration of our sports. We need those who have the passion for sports to nurture the roots of sports to its zenith. As a country, we have what it takes to rule not only Africa but become a power-house in World Sports. Until then, we’ll continue our motion without movement in sports”, he submitted.
While describing Nigeria’s performances in sports as awful, Onayali a renowned Olympian said that she and some ex-internationals have decided to take the bull by the horn to rescue our sports from total collapse
“I’ve stopped talking about Nigerian sports. During my days, all I did was to run, compete and win laurels for this country. But I warned them about the need for replacements but nobody listened. In a few months, we’ll come out with our plans to re-position Nigerian sports to where it should belong. We were 10 but lost Sunday Bada. The nine left will change the face of Nigerian sports. All hopes are not lost”, said Onyali.
Also throwing his hat into the discussion, a former Director General of the National Sports Commission, Dr Amos Adamu, said Nigerian athletes, both past and present should thump up their chests for taking the country to Olympian glorious heights in the past 55 years.
Speaking in a telephone chat with Sports Vanguard, Dr Adamu said, “Nigeria has performed nicely in sports since independence.” Adamu said, sports like every other sector was a product of the same environment which has seen many other sectors stagnated. “But our sports has excelled in the midst of all these handicaps.,”he said.
Continuing, the former CAF and FIFA man said, “our sports has grown to the level that we have produced world champions. When we go to international competitions, we beat the likes of USA, Germany, Spain and so forth. But if you compare our training environment, the facilities with those of our opponents and other factors, you will then understand what I am talking about.”
The seasoned sports administrator said, “compare sports with other sectors and tell me which Nigerian ministry, University or establishment can be rated second or even third in the world or Africa? Is it the power sector, or our roads or hospitals? Sports is the best thing to have come out of Nigeria since independence.
“Just look at the way our athletes soared in the last African Games in Congo finishing second. Which other department can claim second in Africa?” he asked rhetorically.
On his part, former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Kojo Williams said, “Nigeria sports has witnessed good times and bad times. All we need to do is to find out where our problems are. We had very good boxers in the past, our athletes were world beaters and in 1994 our national team was rated 5th best in the world. We need to ask ourselves, where did we go wrong?”
He added that, “the problem with us is that we like too much grammar. We talk too much. It is about putting the structures in place and that is the only way can we move forward”