By Muyiwa Adetiba
The Tokyo Olympics ended last week. Nigeria won a Silver and a Bronze. To many Nigerians, it was a dismal outing full of drama and negative distractions. We had disqualifications; we had protests; we had a contractual agreement with a major sponsor cancelled.
But to the Minister of Sports, it was a good outing. He was obviously looking at the cup as half full rather than half empty. In a statement he issued during the week, he praised the performance of the athletes. He emphasized the point that Nigeria hadn’t won a medal in long jump in thirteen years or won any in wrestling ever. He conveniently forgot those categories where Nigeria had won medals before but was now missing in action (MIA). He spoke about the heroic actions of athletes in the sprint category which did not result in any medal. He forgot that we had gone beyond merely performing in the Finals or semi-finals in athletics.
Finally, he pointed to the fact that we had a young team – with many as debutants – that has many Olympic years ahead of it. Unfortunately, we have had similar situations in the past which we did not capitalise on. Over all, his statement was positive and hopeful and I like that. Sometimes you need to take the positives from your endeavours.
But he needs to be realistic and examine the critical difference between expectations and results – including national expectations. He has to acknowledge that our preparation was below par and was not designed to haul medals.
He has to admit that some of the officials were looking out more for themselves than for the interests of the athletes. He has to remember that those issues which cast us in a negative light at this Olympics were issues which had always been swept under the carpet after every international competition only to rear their heads again at the next competition.
First, we need to commend our athletes. Being an Olympian is not easy. It takes its toll on time, money and the body. But it is a life time achievement. It means joining the small, exclusive list of elite athletes. Many Olympians are content with that. But there are some who want more than just participating. They want medals. Preferably the golden ones.
These are the people who feel let down by the attitude of our government and its sports policy. These are the people who look at other colleagues winning medals for their countries knowing they could have won some if Nigeria had their back. Some Nigerians have changed their nationalities for sporting reasons. It could not have been an easy decision for them to take.
While we respect their decisions, we should make sure that the issues which make for their having to change their nationalities should not be swept under the carpet. We cannot pretend that we don’t know many of those issues. We should be embarrassed as a nation to see a Tokunbo or an Uche representing other countries.
I have long believed that a country’s performance at international sporting events bears a direct relationship to its performance in other areas of human endeavour. I am yet to see a country perform well in sports while doing badly in other key areas of human development or vice versa. So it is not surprising to see where the top two over all medals went to. Neither is it a surprise where the top five over all, medals went to.
Winning a Silver and a Bronze should not be what is expected of a giant of Africa. But we know by now that we are only the giant by virtue of size and population. We are a sleeping giant which without oil, would have been comatose. If we want to have a respectable position in the comity of sporting nations, we have to strive to take a respectable position in the comity of industrialised nations. There is a nexus.
The week our Olympians came home was also the week our resident doctors downed tools. This was in the midst of a rising COVID 19 pandemic. This was in the midst of a rising Cholera epidemic. This was at a time all hospitals and even healthcare centres were full to capacity.
It is hard therefore not to see their decision for an indefinite suspension of services as a form of blackmail. Even many of their sympathisers could see the timing as self-serving. Many more lives would be lost at this point in time. The striking doctors will have to live with that. I am surprised that the conversation around whether they should be paid for services not rendered at this critical time in the nation’s medical history is even being raised. Their action at this time has serious consequences.
The longer the strike action, the heavier the consequences. Having said this, an agreement was reached between government and the resident doctors. Why wasn’t it implemented? Or was it in some people’s opinion, not worth the paper it was written on? The way things work around here, meetings will be hurriedly summoned. Appeals will be made. Some cash will be advanced with the promise that more will be advanced in weeks and months and the doctors will go back to work with full salaries paid.
Then everything will be forgotten. Except of course the bereaved who won’t forget the untimely and unnecessary demise of their loved ones. It is an unhelpful situation all round. Any agreement by government should always be honoured and those who sit on agreements should be held accountable while those who down tools should not be expected to be paid for the period of withdrawal of services. We should also question the sense of responsibility of those who down tools at a time of critical national emergency.
We should realise that every cessation of services whether in the health sector or the education sector drags the country back many steps along general developmental indices. These strikes will eventually come to haunt us in other sectors as well. Like the sporting sector. Or the industrial sector which leads to more unemployment. There are no winners in this and the issues that lead to incessant strikes in the country should be addressed and not swept under the carpet as we are wont to do.