By Denrele Animasaun
“In the republic of mediocrity, genius is dangerous.”— Robert G. Ingersoll
I am not in the business of “I told you so “but I told you so. Two weeks ago, in my column titled:” Paralysis by analysis, I wrote about the litany of disasters leading to the Olympics in Rio; how athletes were turning to social media to fund their training and flights, how ill-prepared the Nigerian athletes were, how unsupported and ill-equipped they were, how tightly controlled the allowance for the athletes that were as they were allocated $75 daily and told they would get the other half on their return home!
The Nigerian athletes received their Olympic kits three days to the closing of the games. They had to compete and perform in their old kit. One of the athletes said: “We are disappointed and embarrassed. We’ve been wearing kits from the World Athletics Championships”
The morale of the national team was rock bottom and it was there for the whole world to see, that this is the way Nigerian athletes are treated by its own government. It’s a disgrace and those that are responsible should hang their heads in shame. The reality of the matter is this; this is the way people are treated in Nigeria. How can one have national pride and I mean, genuine pride, in a nation that does not care about its people?
Nigerian football team made it to the semi-final, and I know it was the only silver lining of the games and the hope that at least, they will come home with a medal. So you wonder what this does to the morale of the athletes and their performances in the Games. Actually, a lot. The nation was let down by the Ministry of Sports and those responsible for ensuring transparency in government spending in sports.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! What were Nigerians expecting; when the athletes were treated with such disregard, disdain, unsupported in training, in upkeep or equipment and any form of management and support.
For instance, the way that the U-23 football team were treated; they had to make their way to Rio and if not for the generosity of Delta Airline, who airlifted them to Rio with only hours to spare until the opening ceremony and their match. Coach Samson Siasia, blamed the minister of sport as the person responsible for the whole debacle, the NOC has got a lot to answer for, when you pay peanuts, then you deserve what you get.
They were lucky to have come home with a bronze medal because someone who is not Nigerian believed in them and gave them an incentive to excel. Japanese plastic surgeon, Takasu told BBC Sport that the $200,000 “is a special donation” and “it is better to deliver it to the team personally”. He added: “I’ve made previous donations to a Japanese hockey team and other notable causes in the past but this right now with Nigeria is incredibly passionate for me. I am deeply determined to motivate this indomitable and strong Nigerian team. I don’t want to distract them but to push them further to their target – the gold in Brazil.
“I hope to see them win gold. They’ve sacrificed a lot to get to Brazil and reach the semi-finals. Humans with such a strong spirit should be encouraged to perform beyond their own imagination.” He delivered on his promise to reward the team after hearing about their financial difficulties before and during the tournament and he came good by presenting the team who won with a cheque of $390,000 who won bronze.
And the minister had the temerity of congratulating the team after they won despite the fact that he was the obstacle and hindrance to the national team. He tried to create animosity and discord because the coach had blamed him for the shambolic mismanagement of the national team. He then instructed team captain, John Mikel Obi, to take charge just because a frustrated Coach Siasia lamented their predicament on social media. All the sports associations have complained of the Sports Ministry’s incompetence under Dalung.
Imagine if this was repeated across the whole camp and maybe, just maybe the outcome would have been different. After all, the success of the National team is a source of pride to all; it lifts the whole country and could have been the tonic that Nigerians needed. It is a shame that this was not the case.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result! It seems Nigerians revel in mediocrity and expects to harvest great returns, it was never going to happen and it is time for post-mortem and it is not going to be pretty and heads have to roll starting with the Ministry of Sport as the buck stops with the minister and his goons.
They should be hurled in front of the senate and grilled by the select committee and throw the EFCC probing for good measure! They should be made an example so that this should not happen again.
Great Britain had a spectacular success in Rio and they came second because they invested in sports. In the 1996 Olympic Games when Great Britain did poorly, the British government then decided that they needed to invest heavily in sports so that they do not repeat the failure of 1996 games. They ensured that from grassroots to National level, they supported sports programmes where young people were encouraged to take part in sports, open academies of sports with fully equipped amenities and sponsorships assured that the athletes concentrated on their performance and preparedness to compete.
Time for some reality check here: The government had budgeted 600m naira ($1.7m; £1.3m) for the Olympics, so where did the money go and was it not spent on the athletes? The Nigerian athletes at Rio failed spectacularly because the powers that be fleeced the coffers, money earmarked was syphoned as a result, and not enough was invested sports over the years. This contributed to the failure of the national team to earn more medals at the games.
The Minister for Sports, Mr Solomon Dalung, and this failure lies squarely on his watch and he is not fit to hold the office. So failure to hold anyone responsible for this disgrace will be unfair to the athletes and a slap in the face of the nation’s pride. If this is swept under the carpet, in four years’ time, the same, if not worse, will happen in Tokyo. Time for Nigeria to look at how other countries deal with improving their performance in the Olympics games.
One of the successes of the games was the British team who placed second in the tally of medals. This success did not come overnight; it was a decade in the making. The reasons for Britain’s success was due to the fact they invested billions of pounds in sport targeting young athletes, improving their performance with the state of the art equipment and training. They were given sponsorship so that they can concentrate on their performance and not worry about where their next meal is coming from or if they could afford a roof over their heads.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports, Senator Obinna Ogba spoke of the poor performance of Nigerian athletes in Rio and he attributed the poor performance of the athletes to non-release of funds meant for the exercise, recalling that his committee had invited the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung who repeatedly told the committee that funds were released to that effect. He said: “I could recall that my Committee invited the Minister of Sports three times to tell us the level of his ministry’s preparation, particularly on funding and he assured us that funds had been released.”
It is important the minister for Sport stands in front of the select committee and he should account for his part in the dismal performance of the national team. Until there is a full enquiry as to what went wrong, there cannot be a solution in how to repair the damage and the nation’s trust.