…My hopes, pains and regrets in our sports

By Bruce Tajinere Ijirigho, Ph.D.(Kimasports).

A 12 year old sprinting sensation was discovered in Jamaica earlier this year.  Her name is Brianna Lyston. Predictions are that her future exploits may dwarf that of Usain Bolt. She should be dominating the Youth and Junior World Athletics Championships for the next four to six years.

. Athletics on 100ms race

Thereafter, she and others in her age group at this year’s Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships (Champs) will benefit from expert coaching and take over elite sprinting in the world for the next ten years, barring any career terminating injuries. That is the way the Jamaican Athletics program is structured to operate.  Athletics is now part of the Jamaican culture and tradition.

This is why they have one of the best athletics development programs in the world. Great athletes must be produced on a continuous basis to move up the age group ladder and eventually replace the ageing elites. Like a well-oiled assembly line, the process must be deliberate and the results predictable.  Jamaica is continuously fine-tuning and improving their program and at the rate they are going, they should continue to dominate the short and long sprints around the world for very many years to come.

Kimasports implemented a Comprehensive Sports Development Program in Cross River State (CRS) from 2009 to 2015, which benefited from the American and Jamaican models. Before the commencement of the program, we spent time in Jamaica interacting with their coaches and administrators, and studying their program model.

Thereafter, we went back annually for three years trying to establish linkage and partnership support in training local game masters and coaches. We brought one of the national coaches to Nigeria along with six others from USA and Cuba to work with us.

The CRS program produced numerous national champions in various age categories, African champions, finalists at the IAAF World Youth and Junior Championships, Commonwealth Games Medals, African Games Medals, and the women 200 meters gold medal at the IAAF 2016 World Junior in Poland.

Four athletes from the program participated in the Rio Olympic Games. The program won the Nigerian School Sports Festival for four consecutive years. It was very successful and regarded as the best youth sports development program in Nigeria. Over 35 young athletes from the program are currently enrolled in Nigerian and USA Universities.

The CRS program no longer exists today. It was discontinued in October 2015 by the present administration in the state.  How can a country of over 180 million people that won no medals at the 2012 Olympic Games, one token bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in soccer, and no hope of any medals in future Olympic Games, terminate the only program producing results?

To ensure long-term sustainability, regular discovery and production of great athletes, (in line with the Jamaican model)  world class equipment worth over 200 million naira was purchased for distribution to six selected model secondary schools where discovered athletes would be in residence and benefiting from year round expert coaching and serious academic pursuits.The equipment have been in storage since 2013/14 and rotting away as I write this.  No continuity and no one cares.  Yes, this is a true story.

According to Howard Aris, President of the Jamaican Athletics Federation in 2009, Jamaica got to where they are today because they built on and improved upon the sports structures left behind by the British colonial government.University of Southern California and Jamaican Olympic medalist, Don Quarrie and other successful Jamaican international athletes before and after him, in the diaspora, returned home to join hands in planning and implementing their programs. They are passionate about their country and their favorite sport.

Thanks to their efforts, Jamaica is now a household name in the world of sports.The primary motive for this success is love of country and the intense desire of the athletes to be the best in the world.  To achieve this, they approach sport like business from a young age.

They work hard, make sacrifices when and where necessary at all levels and stay focused on their goal.  Through it all, Jamaica has imbibed the unstoppable spirit in this endeavor and nothing can stand in their way any longer.

Their policy is sports for all.  Rather than take resources from the system that produces these athletes, everyone, including parents, give of their time and money to organize and officiate small local competitions, encourage the young athletes and support them to achieve their individual and collective goals.

In Nigeria, the situation is different. We destroyed all the structures for sports development in our school system that was left behind by the British. Existing tradition and history vanished when major sports competitions like Grier Cup and Hussey Shield died.

In Nigeria, sports development is considered an opportunity for administrators to get themselves elected into world sports bodies, become powerful, entrench themselves in the system, operate the master servant relationship with athletes, turn national sports Federations into political associations and enrich themselves at the expense of the athletes.

In several instances we have witnessed the outright stealing of monies earmarked for equipment, competition, athletes allowances, feeding, transportation, prize money etc. Nigerian sports administrators hate accountability. The athletes can shed more light on these atrocities.  The government at the federal and state levels are complicit in all these nefarious activities which have robbed the youths of the most populous black nation on earth of the opportunity to enjoy success at the world stage.

It is a shame and I want to believe that our president is not personally aware of the true situation and how bad things really are. Those in charge of sports cannot tell Mr. President the truth because even if they do, they have no solutions to the problem.  There are opportunists and square pegs in round holes at every level of sports administration in Nigeria.

Today, steps must be taken to quickly reverse the situation because it is getting worse and the international disgrace of returning home from major world competitions without a medal is taking its toll on our psyche.

Well tested and successfully implemented plans exist that can turn our fortunes around and set Nigeria on the path of sustainable podium performances at the World and Olympic Games in several sports, within eight to ten years.

I am willing and ready to provide leadership through kimasports for these programs to be implemented at the federal and state levels. I know that the passionate implementation of these athlete centered plans, mixed with genuine patriotic fervor, is the solution we have been waiting for. After all, the Jamaicans and all of the best athletes in the world who are of African descent, are from the genetic stock which has its origin in our shores.

This program can only succeed with partnership and close collaboration between government, private sector and wealthy Nigerian patriots like Dangote, Otedola, Michael Adenuga, Theophilus Y. Danjuma, MrsAlakija, Jim Ovia, Tony Elumeluetc etc.  With the benevolence of one or some of these patriots, honor and glory can accrue to the nation through the participation of our restive youths in competitive sports at home and around the world.  The program blueprint is ready and I am waiting for that all important phone call. Remember that the total population of Jamaica is about 2.9 million and they won eleven medals at the Rio Olympic Games. In contrast, Nigeria won one bronze medal in Rio.  Population figures indicate that 65.71 percent or 124.5 million Nigerians are under 29 years old.

This is the catchment age bracket for fruitfully engaging the youths in this vital national service. It is either we provide the resources to engage themconstructively now so that they and the nation canreap the benefits, or we brace ourselves for the consequences of their eventual restiveness, which will make Nigeria uninhabitable for all, especially the elites and their children.

It took a courageous sports visionary and spiritual clone of late Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemeudia, in the person of former Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State to convince me to return to Nigeria and spearhead the CRS sports revolution from 2009 to 2015. Considering what we achieved, I thank God that I headed his call.

My only pain and regrets are that the centers for sports excellence did not take off before the program was terminated. Secondly, we discovered very many great young athletes who were in the pipeline before the program was discontinued.

They werepotential world stars whose bright futures have been truncated prematurely and unnecessarily.Each time I think about them, my heart bleeds and I end up with a pounding headache.  The system has failed them and Nigeria is the big loser in the process.


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