By Patrick Omorodion
The 30th Olympic Games in London came to a classic close a week ago with the host not only putting up a spectacular closing ceremony like they did on the opening day on July 27, they recorded their best outing at the Olympics with a third place finishing with 28 gold medals.
The story is not the same with Nigeria whose contingent recorded her worst outing since the 1988 edition in Seoul, South Korea, the same year Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson tore the 100m record to shreds before he was discovered to have spiced his system with banned drugs.
Ironically this Olympics will go down in recent history as one in which Nigeria presented her smallest contingent, aiming to concentrate in the sports where she has comparative advantage over other competing countries.
With the poor outing, calls have started flying from aggrieved Nigerians for the sack of the sports minister and the entire administrative machinery of the National Sports Commission, NSC on whose table the failure has been heaped.
No one has however paused to ask why the athletes failed but all we hear is that N2 billion of tax payers money was wasted in the country’s participation and therefore a probe should be ordered immediately.
The probe, if it would be carried out, must be from the Federal Government, which in itself, is the real reason Nigeria’s sports sector, like every other, is in serious coma today. Therefore, it should be a soul-searching exercise rather than a probe of the sports sector.
It is on record that the various governments of the federation, local, state and federal, see sports as recreation and not business that should be taken seriously hence lip service is paid to it every year and always.
That is why the annual domestic budget for the president, his vice and the ministers put together is almost equal if not bigger than that allocated to sports every year which is barely enough to pay salaries of its bloated staff, most of whom are friends and family members of political office holders as well as fund football which the government believes is the only sport to be supported.
It is an irony that sports did better under the military than civilian regimes. This is because the military which gained power through the barrel of the gun rather than the ballot paper, sought to curry the favour of the citizenry by pumping money into the sports sector, especially football, which is seen as a unifying factor for the country as well as to soothe the nerves of Nigerians and distract them from asking for their exit.
Grass-root development and school sports which was the nursery for discovering talents and grooming them into future stars were jettisoned for short cut measures by officials who craved for financial rewards. And so when established stars started fading out, there were no replacement for them and so the country had to, in most cases, fall on self-made athletes who were not properly groomed.
As a way to address the bad state of sports in the country therefore, the government must see sports as serious business and not political patronage for party members and therefore allow thorough bred professionals run its affairs, administratively and technically henceforth.
The government should concern itself with provision of world class facilities and ensure that money meant for sports is not tied to its annual budgetary rituals which most of the times causes the non or late release of funds to prepare athletes for competitions.
Henceforth peanuts must not be allocated to sports and such grants must come well ahead of any competition. For example, Brazil who are hosts of the next Olympic Games in 2016 have budgeted a whopping US$700 million to help her athletes prepare and improve on the three gold medals they won in London. Great Britain have equally earmarked a huge sum annually to the 2016 Games, so Nigeria should do same by putting her money where her mouth is and stop witch-hunting or chasing shadows.
There exist documented plans on how sports can grow in the country, the latest being the one compiled by the Sports Development Thematic Group of the Vision 2020 committee put in place by the late president, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 and they all are covered by dust on shelves in government offices because the government lacks the will to implement them.
If Nigeria doesn’t want to go through another disgrace at the Rio de Janerio 2016 Olympics, the government should have the will to implement policies put in place to lift sports and preparation should begin now and not six months to the Games. Half baked officials foisted on the NSC should be shown the way out while the various sports federations should be thrown open to ideas men who have the will, interest and resources to run them professionally and profitably.
The Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC should also be reinvigorated by ensuring that civil servants whose only interest in its leadership is to feather their nest should be weeded out of its Board to give room for sports businessmen and technocrats who can liaise proficiently with the International Olympic Committee, IOC for better results for our athletes.
Lastly, athletes must be well motivated and handled professionally for them to give their best and not the ‘free range’ system where they fend for themselves and become malnourished. That is why they feed voraciously during competitions and fall to their much more exposed and groomed opponents at competitions.