THE Tokyo 2020 Olympics held between July 21 and August 8, 2021, was quite remarkable in many respects. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Games saw athletes compete in empty arenas. Despite the difficulties the Games went on without disruptions. Humanity gallantly refused to yield ground to the pandemic.
As part of the Olympic family, Nigeria participated in the games, winning one Silver medal in wrestling through Blessing Okorodudu and one Bronze medal by Ese Brume in the women’s long jump event. Team Nigeria placed a distant 74th on the medals table out of 156 countries. Out of the 54 African countries, Nigeria placed eighth behind countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tunisia, South Africa, among others.
It was Team Nigeria’s best outing since Beijing 2008. Apart from medals won, Nigeria produced finalists in the prestigious men’s 100 metres and short put events. The Silver medal won in wrestling was the country’s first in the sport in her Olympic history. Apart from those who won medals, Nigerian athletes did their best under the circumstances and deserve commendation. Not surprisingly, President Muhammadu Buhari has financially rewarded the medal winners.
On the flip side, Nigeria’s adventure at the Tokyo Games was replete with scandals and controversies. The rejection of the controversial Puma kits by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, generated a lot of heat and snowballed to Puma’s cancellation of the contract with Nigeria soon after the Olympics.
Ten out of 23 Nigerian track and field athletes were forced to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympic Games by the Athletics Integrity Unit, AIU, because they did not meet the minimum testing requirements under Rule 15 of the Anti-Doping Rules.
This caused a lot of uproar in the Team Nigeria camp, sparking an open protest in the streets of Tokyo by the disqualified athletes.
As if that was not enough, one of Nigeria’s pre-games medal hopefuls, Blessing Okagbare, was forced to withdraw on the eve of her 100 metres semifinals race because she tested positive for banned substances. That marked the lowest point of Nigeria’s participation in the 2020 Olympics. Beyond the chest-thumping of Nigerian officials over what they term as “our best outing in 15 years”, we would have done better if our sports administrators had done their jobs competently.
Preparing for the Olympics demands more than camping and training the athletes. The Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, and indeed every sports federation must be in constant touch with their athletes, especially their emerging stars with potentials. They need proper guidance before getting into the international competitive arena.
We welcome the AFN’s Anti-Doping Commission headed by Professor Ken Angele. Hopefully, this would forestall future lapses as we experienced at the Tokyo Games, and put Nigeria back on the path to global reckoning in sports.