By Patrick Omorodion
Any father who refuses to pay his children’s school fees but turns around to claim the credit for their excellent performance has no pint of shame running in his blood. That is the situation with Team Nigeria and the immediate past minister of Youth and Sports Development minister, Solomon Dalung.
We were all in this country when Nigerian athletes complained that they were not being prepared for the continental sports festival which comes every four years.
When the camping of athletes finally started, they were asked to report to the various camps scattered around the country with a directive that they should pay their way there. There was a proviso, and it was that those who eventually make the cut would have their expenses refunded by the sports ministry.
This provision angered some of the athletes in some particular sports camped somewhere in the north eastern part of the country who also complained of the poor feeding regimen provided for them. They even threatened to withdraw from camp.
I remember many times when the Wrestling Federation president, Dr Daniel Igali complained that the sports ministry was not proactive in athletes’ participation at international competitions by making funds available early enough or not available at all which could serve as preparatory events to toughen the athletes for the Games.
Igali, himself a victim of lack of support from the government during preparations for major competitions in the past, has always cautioned athletes against waiting for the government before they prepare themselves for events.
He believes that every athlete owes him or herself the duty to keep fit always and train, hoping that the government will eventually call them to camp. “If you say because the government has not called for camping and you don’t train, when the camping eventually starts, you will not be fit to make the list and you end up being the loser”, was his admonition to them always.
That was why he took extra efforts to source funds, most times with the support of his state government in Bayelsa to keep his wrestlers in top shape with constant camping as well as participation in national international competitions.
With the African Games which ended in Morocco yesterday, the excitement among Nigerians that Team Nigeria was going for the Games was near zero because of the seeming lack of preparation for the athletes.
It even showed in the manner they departed the country for Morocco. Unlike in the past when their departure for the Games, after a well planned training tour, was with fanfare and by a charter flight, this time around they went in batches with coat of many colours as their kits were either not ready or adequate.
Ordinarily athletes who went through this condition were supposed to be in very low spirit. But, like Igali always told them, “think first about your career and put in your best. If you excel, you would have done yourself a whole lot of good. And then the government will eventually come to appreciate your effort”.
Anyone who follows the former Commonwealth, continental, world and Olympic wrestling champion on social media would remember his lamentation during the Africa Nations Cup in Egypt when, in reacting to the Super Eagles earning $10,000 as bonus for winning a match, he wrote that he was looking up to the day athletes from other sports would amass up to the same amount for emerging champions from a competition.
Mind you the allowances and bonuses approved for every sports man and woman is got from the sports ministry, the parent body for all the federations, including the super Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
So you can imagine how athletes from other sports who won gold medals from their events would feel being paid $3,000 (or $6,000 for athletes in team events) after winning all stages of their events while each Super Eagles player got $50,000 for getting a bronze. They got $10,000 for each of the five matches they won, including the bronze medal match against Tunisia.
What it means is that a gold medal in say a team event like basketball or handball is worth $6,000 while a bronze medal in football at the Africa Nations Cup is worth $50,000.
It is bad enough that these athletes from other sports are treated as second class citizens. It is however, rubbing salt on an open wound when despite this glaring discrimination against them coupled by neglect by the sports ministry headed by the former sports minister, Solomon Dalung, he comes round to claim credit for their feat at the African Games. Or so his hatchet writers told us a couple of days ago.
Dalung forgot that he once said that athletes don’t need to train for long to win medals but just need a “winning mentality”. He said this shortly after the country’s special sports athletes did well at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio to justify the lack of adequate training which the able bodied athletes blamed for their poor performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Despite the distraction from irrelevant quarters, Nigerians appreciate the performance of Team Nigeria athletes and their officials for flying the country’s flag high in Egypt. They have shown that they have the quality to match Egypt medal for medal if the right things are done by the government, individuals and corporate bodies.
This is the time to tell the new sports minister, Sunday Dare, that Nigeria must explore areas of strength of Egypt like swimming which has a lot of medals while building to retain our areas of strength like table tennis and athletics (sprints and field events) which the Egyptians and South Africans have encroached into. Congrats to our heroes and heroines.