By Ikeddy Isiguzo
IT began like yesterday, with those sad incidents of losing loved ones, our own Richard Animam, Uche Okafor and Gideon Njoku in the early part of the year.
To think that 2011 is in its closing chapters! Some will say so soon, others would like to look at the year’s efforts to rate them against the past year or put them in perspective for the big one next year – the London Olympics.
Team Nigeria would be happy over its performance at the 10th all Africa Games. The predictions were for a worse outing. I was one of those that gave the team a slim chance of making the top four after the level of preparations that the various had.
Nigerian athletes again stunned watchers with a late push that almost earned them the second place. The gap between top finisher, South Africa, and the others indicate several things. One of them is the low standards of our teams in certain sports, especially the aquatic ones.
The other, possibly more important, is that little is being done to change the situation. The complaints about the manipulations of the sports in the Games programmes do not make much sense. The practice has been on for years. The chance given hosts to have facilities for sports considered fixtures in the Games and to add others of their choice have left the Games at the whims of countries that can push their influence. The All Africa Games are not much different from the Commonwealth Games in this regard.
What distinguishes the All Africa Games is the extent of lawless that pervades. One has been at Games where the rules are not known. Some times the number of sports that are unknown right into the competitions.
Federation officials are guilty of the obnoxious practices. Some are so partisan that their interests span against the development of the sports. They want certain interests to win. Where this is not possible, they can cancel events, disqualify athletes, or give decisions that reflect their interests.
Nigeria knew all these going into the Games. If there was anything that should have been done it would have years before Maputo. The political side of Games manifest at events, the political engagements are made elsewhere.
On another level, we must admit that we are not making enough investments in sports development. The various notches of development – schools, local governments, states – are dying. Most of the responsibilities for developing sports lie with the Federal Government, which is at the apex and expects national team camps would be folded with athletes that the local governments and states have produced.
What are we going to do differently after Maputo? Beyond promises to improve preparations, pay more attention to swimming, and other sports where we have good chances, how will these be done? Did we need to wait for Maputo to know these things? Have reports, some more than 40 years old, not stated the importance of thorough preparations?
The 2012 Olympic Games are months away. When will the preparations start? Do other countries use months to get ready for the Olympics? When we look at 2011, we see a catalogue of missed opportunities, ceaseless squabbles over the leadership of football, a fast fading domestic league with practices that signify the determination of its managers to stifle life out of it.
Any analysis of 2011, so far, will show a year of unprecedented tensions occasioned by multiple football law suits, the silence of the National Sports, the palpable fear that greeted every minimal effort of the Eagles to qualify for African competition and the outright failure of the age grade teams and with it, the further depletion of the future. Even the women who did well, relatively, are ignored. We tend to forget that the Nations Cup, which they have lost only once since 1998, is the same competition that the Eagles last won the men’s version 17 years ago.
Is it too early to start planning for 2012? It is late, but the Nigerian spirit is about resilience. If we are able to round off plans for the Olympic trainings and commence them before the beginning of 2012, Nigerian athletes will pull off some surprises that will testify to the impact of hard work and planning.
FIFA Falling Foundations…
THERE are enough scandals in FIFA to nibble away the foundation of an organisation once respected for tidy conduct of its affairs. I am not concerned about those known scandals now. A bigger scandal is the refusal of countries that signed hosting right agreements with FIFA to honour them. Italy falls in that group with its refusal to grant visa to three Nigerians players who the Nigerian football authorities registered for the FIFA Beach Football World Cup that ended in Italy two weeks ago.
Brazil’s last minute triumph over Nigeria in the quarter-final in a tension soaked game that was drawn 8-8 at full time and which Brazil won 10-8 can be attributed largely to the three-man deficit in the Nigeria team.
What did FIFA do about Italy’s intransigence? Nothing! What can Nigeria do? Protest the denial of visa to its players and continue protesting until FIFA and the Italians apologise for limiting our chances at the competition.