By PROF. EMMANUEL OJEME
The 10th ALL AFRICA GAMES staged in Maputo, Mozambique, ended over a month ago. We have all seen and / or witnessed Nigeria’s performance at the Games and can also assess where we are in sports development. Because the All African Games is a key regional or continental sports programme, it provides a valid and useful measuring rod for Nigerian sports strength in Africa. How well did Nigeria perform?
It should be stated that in any African competition, Nigeria is expected to be a front runner as well as provide leadership.
In the history of All Africa Games, we have always expectedly been in the top bracket of medals table. Worthy of a special mention is the 2003 Games which took place in Abuja in which Nigeria came tops. In the Maputo Games, we struggled so much to achieve a third position in a competition that South Africa ran away with an intimidating overall medals hauled as shown by this abridged medals table.
Countries Total medals Breakdown
South Africa 131(57gold, 40 silver, 34 bronze) Algeria 51 (11 gold, 19 silver, 21 bronze)
Nigeria 47 (11 gold, 16 silver, 20 bronze)
Tunisia 45 (17 gold, 19 silver, 9 bronze)
Our third position was okay in terms of position but in quantitative and qualitative terms, it does not speak well enough of our sporting prowess and competitiveness on the African Continent. Having made this evaluative statement, Nigeria must be very grateful to the Athletics Federation of Nigeria for coming to her rescue. It was Track and Field that reignited a twilighting and disappearing Nigeria on the medals table.
I hope we will learn our lessons. We will still fail, in future, to put our money where our strength is? Our strength is in Track and Field, among others, yet it is underfunded, while we invest the billions in football that is most unproductive. You will recall that Ghana eliminated our male and female teams from the Maputo All Africa Games while Guinea pushed us out of the 2012 All Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.
One other issue raised by the Maputo Games is the elimination of key sports such as wrestling, weightlifting and powerlifting from the Games. The organizers of the Games should ensure that Key Olympic Sports, such as wrestling, weightlifting and powerlifting are integral part of the Games, to raise the Olympic value of the competition. Using politics to eliminate these and other Olympic Sports from All Africa Games also diminishes the value of the Games medals table, in terms of Olympic carryover value. What does it worth to grab so many medals in the Continental Games through manipulation, that will not mean much at the global level? All said and done, Nigeria has itself to blame by accenting to the elimination of such sports in which we also have competitive advantage.
A major policy issue which must now be placed side by side with the Maputo Games outcome, is the concessioning policy of the National Sports Commission. Is this policy working? I doubt it very much. Most of the concessioned sports seem to be finding life difficult. Lack of competitiveness in these sports due to funding palaver,
definitely diminishes our participation in these sports, in which many African Countries are excelling. If we cut down the billions in football, in which Government has no control, to develop more medal winning sports, I am sure that these other sports will do well and serve Nigeria better. I was quite impressed with basketball, another beautiful sports, where Nigeria ranked high at the Maputo Games.
Another vivid lesson Maputo taught us, one more time, is that episodic programming of sports will not pay the dividends we desire and deserve. We respond to sports competitions only when it is at hand. It is only a systematic and proactive programming that can give us the Champions which vision 20:2020 demands. We must keep our hands on the plough continuously.
Nigerian sports need to overhaul the Technical Competence of Coaches in all sports. Boxing for example, is one of the sports that can improve by more effective technical guidance of Boxers as well as increasing the intensity and frequency of local and international boxing tournaments.
During the Games, North African Countries and even tiny Mauritius dealt with Nigeria in this sports. This should not be. Is vision 20.2020 still alive and kicking? Surely, time will tell.