•Sustaining the joy of podium performances

By Tony Ubani & Patrick Omorodion

The euphoria that greeted Team Nigeria’s performances, which started from the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, United States and dovetailed into the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, is still very much in the air.

Government, at both federal and state levels, is savouring it and pledging all manners of rewards which the athletes rightly deserve.

Even the sports federations, which own the athletes that garnered the 35 medals of different hues, are crediting themselves for the sweet victory by their various athletes.

Read Also: On the podium with Tobi Amusan 

Most of all, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, through its Minister, Sunday Dare, is equally celebrating the feat, which surpassed Nigeria’s performance at the Commonwealth Games since we started participating in 1950 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The 2022 World Athletics Championships and Commonwealth Games, which happened between a space of two months, showed Nigeria as a powerhouse in sports which has not really tapped into its potential.

In Oregon, the country won her first athletics gold medal through Tobi Amusan who also did the unthinkable, breaking the 100m women’s hurdles record twice in one day.

Ese Brume added a silver medal in the women’s long jump while the women’s 4x100m relay team shattered the African record which the country previously held.

These results posted by our athletes could have been much more if those vested with the task of discovering and nurturing budding talents were up to speed with their job.

Lubomir Kotleba, a Federation of International Basketball Associations, FIBA, Advisor, once said, after Nigeria won the African Basketball Nations Cup, Afrobasket after 50 years in 2015, that Nigeria has enough talents to be leaders of the sport in Africa and the world but what we lack was good administration.

This is not limited to basketball but sports in general.

In the past when we had administrators who had the passion because they were equally professionals, we had sincere development plans from the grassroots through school sports where young talents were discovered and nurtured to stardom.

Those were the days of the Isaac Ikhioyas, the Jerry Enyeazus, the Abraham Ordias and the Awoture Eleyaes, among others, who, through the defunct National Sports Commission, NSC, put in place structures, not only for discovering talents but also training trainers.

That era produced talents that challenged the world and dominated Africa. In athletics and boxing, Nigeria made waves in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games in the 1990s.

That was when we had the likes of Chidi Imoh, Olopade Adeneken, the Ezinwa brothers, Davidson and Osmond, Innocent Egbunike, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Christy Opara-Thompson, Chioma Ajunwa, David Izonretie and Tony Konyegwachie.

The template, which the Ikhioyas, Ordias, Enyeazus and Eleyaes put down, is still there and only needs to be improved upon to tally with the much more scientific trends of now.

After the scrapping of the NSC, ministers have come and gone but none actually looked into the blueprints to follow and improve on it. Our facilities are not only insufficient but outdated and not conducive for the athletes to train with.

This provoked the thoughts of a sports journalist, Jide Fashikun, who hatched the idea of ‘Adopt an athlete’ by corporate organisations and wealthy individuals.

Just when the programme was beginning to gain acceptance by Nigerians, Fashikun passed on.

Luckily his partner on the project, Mary Onyali, was appointed as an aide of the present Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, who bought into the idea and latched on to it.

Companies, individuals and even state governments keyed into it, adopted potential athletes who they provided funds for to cater for their training and sundry requirements in order to avoid distractions as they prepared for competitions.

The reward is what Nigeria is reaping today. Who would have thought that a Nigerian athlete would be ruling the world in 100m hurdles with a gold medal added to it?

There are many more Tobi Amusans, Ese Brumes, Odunayo Adekuruoyes, Blessing Oborodudus, Mercy Genesis’, Folashade Lawals, Chioma Onyekweres, Goodness Nwachukwus, Eucharia Iyiazis, Folashade Oluwafemiayos, Rosemary Chukwumas and Grace Nwokochas in the country. What we need is the programme that would assist coaches to discover them so that they can be nurtured to stardom.

Grassroots sports development is an arm of the Sports Ministry but how do they liaise with the states where the schools are located to run a proper sports program for their students?

The National Sports Festival, which runs biennially, is not enough. Like it is done in Cuba, we should have grassroots programmes that will run thrice in a year, say two months each with one month break. This makes nine months of training and competitions with three months break.

The grassroots programmes, which are for junior athletes, will produce athletes for the intermediate category which, in turn, will produce athletes for the senior category from where the elite athletes who are potential podium performers will be selected for special grants to support them.

These will curtail the habit of our elite athletes participating in all circuits around the world to earn money to be able to cater for their sundry needs. Once the athletes get the desired support and grant, they will choose the competitions they participate in and hence won’t get burnt out before they get to major competitions like their various world championships, the Commonwealth Games and ultimately the Olympic Games.

Nigerian spirit

Nigeria had won at least one medal at every Commonwealth Games attended since the first medal, silver, in 1950 which was won by Joshua Majekodunmi in High Jump.

For the first time, Nigeria also placed higher than all other African countries, including her eternal rival, South Africa. Nigeria finished seventh on the medals table with a record of 35 medals: 12 gold, 9 silver, and 14 bronze.

To cap a glorious outing, Nigerian athletes broke Commonwealth records, and they set many new records. Over four decades’ jinx of no medals in some sports was also broken.

As a result, Dare, under whose watch these feats were recorded, dedicated the excellent performance to “true Nigerian spirit” and President Muhammadu Buhari who approved programmes of the ministry.

“The performance of Team Nigeria is excellent, phenomenal, and commanding. A signpost of better performances in the future. Congratulations to Team Nigeria athletes and officials on their history-making feat at the 2022 Commonwealth Games”, he said.

“The athletes have once again demonstrated the true Nigerian spirit. Our success in Birmingham is an indication that Nigerian sports is on the rise again in spite of the global economic downturn.

“Our youth have shown the resilience Nigerians are known for and we, as a Sports Ministry, will ensure we continue with the reforms we started in 2019 and which have resulted in the geometrical growth of the sector”.

I’ve really wanted to get the Games record — Brume

Three-time African champion, Ese Brume, said after she set a new Commonwealth Games record with a leap of 7.00 metres to win gold, her second after the one she claimed at Glasgow Games eight years ago, that she had been dreaming of setting a record in the event.

After two jumps of 6.99m and one of 6.96m – which would all have been enough to secure top spot on the podium – Brume said her record jump demonstrated her consistency in her discipline.

“This is one thing I really wanted – to get the Games record,” she added.

“This is special for me, because it shows consistency. It shows the hard work of all those that have supported me, and my coach who has been backing me up.

“Sometimes it’s about how you’re able to show that what you’re doing is not a fluke.”

We’ve always wanted to be 4x100m champions — Nwokocha

A member of the women’s 4x100m relay team which claimed gold, Grace Nwokocha, was ecstatic after the victory, saying the gold became sweeter after they missed a medal at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, United States a month earlier.

Women’s 100m hurdles World Champion, Tobi Amusan, had joined her alongside Favour Ofili and Rose Chukwuma to finish ahead of England and Jamaica with a new African record of 42.10secs to win gold.

“We’ve been working so hard to get ourselves a fast time so that we could be at world level and we could be champions,” 21-year-old Nwokocha added.

“It is what we have always wanted to be. When we went to the World Athletics, we felt so disappointed we didn’t get a medal.”

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