By Segun Odegbami
A certain Nigerian athlete is on my mind.
She was billed to win, but she lost her event. She worked extremely hard. She is funded and adopted by a powerful and well-respected spiritual leader. She has been a model of good conduct and character through the years of her wearing the national colours of Nigeria.
Against this solid background, she lost a match she was on the verge of winning.
It gave me plenty of food for thought again about religion and sports.
At the risk of offending certain sensitivities, fasting, praying and wishful thinking do not win Olympic medals. If they did the countries that would be atop the medals table at the end of Tokyo 2020 would be the most religious countries in the world, led by Nigeria!
Prayer, fasting, and wishful thinking in sport, on their own without all the basic and more important ingredients that go with winning, are subtle bribes offered the Universe to become partial and to reward unearned and undeserved medals.
For Nigerians, indeed for all Africans, it should be clear now – Miracles and sports hardly go together. They do not happen in the dimension of ‘water turning into wine. If you know of one such ‘miracle’ in sports let me know. I think they ended with the end of the ancient Olympics between the gods.
At the largest gathering of humans on earth, the elements would not promote any practices that have scourged the world as at no other time in history with colonialism, Semitism, Apartheid, racism, injustice, inequality, discrimination, bias, partiality, and conflicts.
The Olympics are the opposite – games that are friendly, healthy, designed to promote peace, equality, harmony, and unity contested on level playing fields and won only on merit.
On this sacred planet of sports, athletes are equal and can only reap what they sow. Otherwise, the whole essence and purpose of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games becomes defective and defeated.
On that premise, Team Nigeria went to the Tokyo Games, saw, and are coming back to the country with medals to the extent and value of the country’s investment in sport. That is the stark and unbiased reality. Anything beyond that in expectation is wishful thinking which, like miracles, has no place in sport.
Nigeria’s investment in sports is minuscule, therefore, its harvest of medals will and should reflect that, no more, no less. You do not plant a single seed and expect to harvest a plantation.
In the case of Tokyo 2020, one Silver and one Bronze medal as a reward for all that the country imputed into its sports going to the Games, are a reflection of the state of Nigeria’s sports. That is a harsh reality that every Nigerian must accept in order to embark on the hard road to greater success in the future.
Nigeria must draw lessons from observing what the successful countries at the Games are doing to advance their sport and harvest bountiful dividends from their investment in it.
Jamaica was not the speed centre of the world that it is today three decades ago. It learned from the experiences of its athletes going to the United States to hone the gifts of nature bestowed on their boys and girls. That’s where Nigeria should start.
Jamaicans are of the same rich stock of homo sapiens as many of the Blacks from West Africa. The same thing goes for Blacks in the Caribbeans as a whole, and in America’s, descendants of the strongest and healthiest Black persons, male and shipped across the oceans in Slave ships to these parts of the world to work as slaves on plantations and construction sites.
The evidence is in front of the world at every Olympic Games, and increasingly so too, that the Black person, and coloured folks with a tinge of Black in their blood, are uniquely born for some sports events, particularly those that require power, strength, and speed.
Considering what other countries that are serious about winning medals are doing to harness this gift inherent in Blacks, and invest in honing them to become even better, sentiments apart, Nigeria is just wallowing in the vast opportunities and resources all around her, wasting like a beautiful flower in the desert.
With every Olympic Games, Nigeria’s story remains the same, a few medals here and there, lamentation at the end of it, and a return to the same unproductive systems and structures until the next Olympics. The cycle repeats itself like a clock.
It is not rocket science, what needs to be done. These are in several documents put together by different committees, conferences, and seminars through the years, gathering dust in government offices the drivers of sports development in the country, never touched, never adopted, never practiced.
And the reason is simple – leadership. To expand on this subject is to hurt the sensibilities of those against it who benefit from the present conditions established by ignorance and a lack of knowledge.
Sport in Nigeria is driven by politics. It is not seen for what it is and for what it could be. It is not appreciated for its power to impact society massively and change the country for good. It is seen only through a small prism, as an unproductive and expensive pastime for those that have no serious business to conduct.
So, as a sport has always suffered, so will it continue to suffer even after Tokyo 2020 until and unless there is a tsunami that will upturn the weak and shallow foundations laid through the years, and something new emerges from the debris of Tokyo.
Ron Freeman, Lee Evans, Evander Hollyfield, and many other legendary athletes have done their DNA using the latest advances in science to determine their ancestral roots. All of them have genes that are traced to the West African sub-region. Lee Evans worked for most of his career after sports in Africa. Ron Freeman is still in Guinea trying to implant knowledge using his experiences into our Black brothers in that part of the field. Ron Davis is in Tanzania, working with Filbert Bayi to send down the message of the power of Blacks to the government.
These gentlemen gave up their lives in the United States, saw the wastage of opportunities going on in Africa their ancestral homes, and have returned to help shape and guide their Black brothers and sisters in Africa to Eldorado through sports.
‘The Eye’, from what it saw again in Tokyo, says that the evidence of what needs to be done is all over the results from Tokyo, dominated by Blacks in several sports.
Nigeria’s poor showing speaks directly to the lackadaisical attitude of the government and the largest single source of Black potential athletes in the world – Nigeria and Nigerians.
Blessed by nature and their environment, Nigerians can rule more areas of the world of sports, reinforce their social and cultural places in the world, and turn their talent into fortunes. But to achieve this, they must do more than just pray and fast as they have been doing for Millennia, calling on the divine for what they have to do themselves. The products and rewards are in the ‘doing’ not the talking and the wishful thinking.
Medals do not come through miracles and pronouncements before the Olympics, but through strategic planning, dint of hardwork, program execution, perseverance, courage, determination, dedication, discipline, focus, and the little bit of luck (this is where the prayers come in) that follows all the foregoing in accordance to the Universal Order of things since Creation.
So, Nigerians’ must understand and imbibe the spirit of the Olympic Movement which carries out its own mandate without infringing on the ethics and ethos of the 4-yearly assembly of humans, without bias, discrimination, segregation, oppression, injustice, partiality, with every contest held on a level playing field, testing and challenging the limits of human capacity and capability in several physical activities, and using the event to build global objectives that cement the relationship between all humans.
For even a single athlete at the Olympics to be rewarded with an unearned privilege would amount to unfairness and injustice, and will go against the grain of natural justice.
At Tokyo 2020 ‘the Eye’ did not see or hear, from its observatory over Tokyo 2020′, any accusation and outcry of racism, favouritism, or cheating during the Games.
So, Team Nigeria is returning home after the closing ceremonies this weekend with the 2 medals she deservedly won considering the country’s input into sports development and preparations and actual performance at Tokyo 2020.
Winning medals at the Olympics is the product of harnessed talent, hardwork, commitment, dedication, determination, good ‘wind’, and focus.
That’s what the country needs now – making ample use of the successes and seeming failures and converting them into strategies.