August 29, 2009

Vital lessons for Nigeria

By Emmanuel Ojeme
It is no more news that the World Athletics Championship was held last week and it coasted well in Berlin. The World Championship is the equivalent of the Football World Cup event loved by everyone, a version(U-17) of which is to be hosted by Nigeria this year.

Everything about football, in Nigeria, is usually golden and embraced by all. Unlike athletics which is the Jewel of the Sports World, we do not seem to cherish it enough. It is however, sad to note that countries who know the competitive value of track and field in particular, including those less endowed than our country will ever lead us in the Olympic medals table. Many people rightly feel that Nigeria must re-think her attitude and strategy of sports development if we are to prosper. Secondly, it is well known that we have the potential to be among the best in the world in Sports, particularly, in track and field, boxing, wrestling and others, if we make up our mind to achieve this goal and take appropriate action.

The just ended World Athletics Championship has once more brought to the fore our decline in this sport. Jamaica is a country of about 2% of Nigeria’s population, yet her athletes reign supreme in this sport.

The Jamaica National Anthem has been played several times during this Berlin competition. The number of times a nation’s national anthem is played is equal to the number of gold medals athletes from that nation have won. As the anthem is played so is the national flag raised aloft and the victorious young men and women doing these jobs celebrate in the arena. It is no news that Usain Bolt, the awesome, Jamaican sprinter is a conqueror of all sprinters of this generation and has the world records of his events under his firm grip at the age of 22 years. You can also see that Jamaican athletes of both sexes in different events are showing world class performances in their events.

In this particular championship, Nigeria’s performance has not, as expected been upto our befitting level, as the Giant of Africa. Although, the team is managed by a new AFN leadership of great hope, who are encumbered by the liability of our past decadence in this sport for many years, this new leadership of AFN is determined to turn around our fortunes with the collaboration of everyone.

I have asked a lot of questions about the intimidating success of Jamaica in track and field. What is this country doing in this sport that has Lionized her athletes that, we are not doing? It seems to me that Jamaica does a lot of things which have not caught up with us here in Nigeria. In this write up, I would examine one of the Jamaican success factors and leave the rest for another day’s discussion.

Jamaican Athletics: A Special Case of Functional Interface of Sports and Educa    tion. Sports in Jamaica is known to be rooted in their school system. This country operates a bottom-up sports development system. The fundamentals of physical education and sports are taught and practiced from primary schools. Sports is a distinct subject in Jamaican Schools.

Through this programme, the basic skills of athletics are acquired by pupils at a very young age. This is complemented with a well knitted athletics competition system. Within the school system also, basic sports facilities and equipment are made available to promote the effectiveness of these programmes.

By the time the pupils are arriving at the Secondary Schools, they already have clearly identified sports skills and interest which form the basis of further development. Secondary school students make the athletics team in Junior National and International Competitions.  It is important to note that competent physical education and Sports teachers are provided in the Primary and Secondary Schools to distinctly pilot the affairs of the Schools Sports programme with well defined objectives.

On maturity, Jamaican athletes do not defect to other countries. They use their athletic skills and prowess to promote the image of their country and make bigger and perhaps richer nations look ordinary.

The Jamaican success in track and field is a classical case of the perfect blend of sports, physical education and education by a developing nation of about two million people. It is also illustrative of a nation with a well designed and implemented sports/athletics policy. The impact of Jamaican School Sports success at the world stage is inestimable. Can we contrast this observation with the situation in Nigeria. What do we find?.

In Nigeria, unlike Jamaica, we do
not have a well knitted
athletics programme in Schools. In fact the educational system, in Nigeria is not Sports oriented. Take a good look at our Primary and Secondary Schools, what you see about Sports in general, is football. Not even well designed football programme but free-lance interest and practice by pupils and students. There are no deliberate and well heeled sports programmes.
The Nigerian Education Research and Development Council, rather than designing a strong physical education and Sports curriculum for Schools, provides an omnibus and obtuse physical and health education school curriculum that is neither here nor there.
Our schools do not have Competent Sports teachers. They do not have facilities and basic equipment. The Ministries of Education, its agencies; Sports Ministries and agencies do not collaborate, coordinate and promote school sports in any meaningful way. And because the measure you give is the measure you get in any human endeavour, the failure of Nigeria’s school system to do the right things in sports has left our track and field athletics undeveloped. The outcome of this failure is the regular pain and defeat our beloved country suffers in every world sports competition including the present one in Berlin, Germany.
What is the way forward? There is no need for lengthy story here. We have been crying, pleading and shouting that sports should be taught and programmed in schools as an integral part of the educational curriculum. The education and sports agencies should collaborate and coordinate, and implement the programme; provide competent teachers and coaches, appropriate facilities and set goals to be achieved in this programme while the Athletes who emerge from this programme are developed vertically and exposed to national and international competitions on a sustainable basis. The big talents should be guided to combine higher education and competitive athletics at home and abroad. This is what Jamaica and other successful nations have done and are doing. Is Nigeria ready to model and implement its own School Sports programme for the needed results? Giant of Africa, Arise!
•Prof. Emmanuel Ojeme wrote in from the University of Benin