Team Nigeria was programmed to fail in Rio
He threatened that heads would roll if it emerged that the poor outing was caused by officials’ acts of omission or commission, arguing that Nigeria has enough human and material resources to be among the world leaders in international competitions.The minister had on the eve of Team Nigeria’s departure for the games assured his compatriots that the contingent would come home with nothing less than five medals. He actually said the team were eyeing 15 medals, adding that the least they would achieve was five medals.
Dalung’s reaction to Team Nigeria’s performance in Rio is familiar to chroniclers of the country’s slide in sports since the 2008 Games hosted by Beijing, China.On Thursday, the National Assembly toed Dalung’s path by declaring that it would probe the country’s disgraceful outing in Rio, adding that it would invite the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) to brief it on the events in Rio.
Perhaps, the latest declarations by the government agencies would have been unnecessary if results of past post competition interventions had been utilized to avoid repeat occurrences.Shortly after Nigeria returned from one of its worst ever games, the London 2012 Olympics, the Federal Government, headed by Goodluck Jonathan, convened a National Sports Summit where all the country’s experts came together to proffer solutions to the nation’s slide in international sports.
Among other things, it was agreed that poor preparations for major international events was the major cause of Nigeria’s failure in big championships. As well as advising that preparation for the Rio 2016 Games should begin immediately, the summit also identified neglect of grassroots sports development as the bane of the country’s sports and therefore advocated immediate return to the schools and the communities to unearth hidden talents.
One of the fallouts of the summit was the institution of a National School Sports Commission (NASCOM) to drive sports development in schools and ensure that products of grassroots programmes were aided to develop their skills and grow to become elite athletes. The Federal Government also invested N300 million in a programme that was supposed to help the country turn the large number of talented youths into great sportsmen.
It was also agreed that Nigerian sports would not thrive until the sector was helped to fund its programmes without necessarily waiting for the passage of the yearly federal budget. A system was devised where the then Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonji Iweala, helped the Sports Ministry to source for funds for its programmes outside the federal budget.
Sadly, such noble ideas were discarded shortly after when the then Sports Minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, was replaced by Dr. Tammy Danagogo, who came with a different mindset and several unnecessary battles to fight.
In other climes, governance is seen as a continuum, where good programmes initiated by previous administrations are continued and improved upon by their successors. But in Nigeria’s case, each succeeding sports minister almost always discards the initiatives of his predecessor no matter how noble such programmes are. And so it was that the current custodian of the position, Solomon Dalung, a self confessed ‘guerrilla fighter,’ did not see any need to revisit the programmes instituted by Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi. Nigeria went back to its pre-London 2012 era, with preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics the major casualty of the country’s apathy to sports development.
Perhaps, the last nail in the sector’s coffin was driven by the government’s decision to scrap the National Sports Commission (NSC) and merge the sports ministry with the Youth and Social Development counterpart. This created an architecture that gave the impression that sports was the junior partner in the new set up and therefore took the subservient role in the new setting.
The director general of the NSC, Alhassan Yakmut, who was supervising the country’s preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, was reassigned to a parastatal outside the sports ministry, while the permanent secretary of the Youth and Social Development Ministry was named the chief accounting officer of the new ministry. The result was that all the programmes being handled by the former NSC director general were discarded by the new set up such that preparation for the Rio Games was negated.
The new dispensation was highlighted by the media war waged by the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, against Yakmut, whom he accused of mismanaging the N2.9 billion earmarked for Nigeria’s participation at the 2015 African Games hosted by Congo DR and preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. The main casualty of this dispensation was the preparation for the Rio Games as the sports federations could not get the required funds from the Federal Government to prepare their athletes for the games.
Some, like Shooting and Archery, as well as Taekwondo federations, could not get the required funds to attend qualifying championships and thus were out of Rio 2016 even before the games began. The government’s new attitude to preparation for the games created a situation where the athletes had to resort to fund raising agencies to source for money to continue their preparations as well as buy flight tickets to attend the games.
At a time Team Nigerian athletes were not sure they would be part of the 2016 Olympic Games because the Federal Government did not release the required funds for the championship.A Team Nigeria official, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that it took the intervention of prominent Nigerians before the Federal Government released the funds for Nigeria’s participation at the Rio Games.
He said: “The Treasury Single Account policy of the Federal Government made it difficult for the Sports Ministry to raise the necessary funds for training and participation in the games. This was so because all the money required for the various programmes had to come from the Federal Government, which in turn approved the funds for the ministry to distribute to the various organs involved in the preparation and participation in the Olympics.
“However, coming barely two weeks before the games, the money was only useful for the contingent’s flight tickets and other expenses. It was no longer useful for the athletes’ preparation because there was nothing they could do at that short period to improve their chances of success in Rio.”
Aside poor preparations, the sports ministry’s decision to cut the number of officials and Team Nigeria’s training partners worked against the country’s aspirations at the games.
Speaking on his failed bid for Olympic glory, Team Nigeria’s sole representative in the boxing event, Efe Ajagba, lamented the neglect he suffered in the hands of his compatriots, who were supposed to aid his preparation and participation at the games.
He said: “This is my first Olympics and I did not have any other boxer to cover my back. I did not have anybody to train with, so I relied on my strength and what we saw of my opponents in their previous fights to prepare for the fight.”A sad Ajagba added, “You cannot compare me, who trained for less than three months, with some of my opponents who had three years support to prepare for the Olympics.
“All the boxers here attended the world championships last year, while I did not go anywhere to fight or train because the government said there was no money.
“I was only allowed a coach here, while in a normal situation I should have had four coaches with different duties. I did not have a sparring partner and even when I came here I saw a different type of punching bag from what I am used to in Nigeria. In a situation like that, it is a difficult task for one to attempt to beat better prepared fighters.’’ Table tennis star, Olufunke Oshonaike, who lost in the early rounds of her event, rued the failed promises by officials, who were supposed to aid their success at the games.
She said the athletes’ allowances were not paid on time as agreed, while the kits did not arrive in Rio until three days to the end of the games.Oshonaike told The Guardian at the Games Village in the Barra area of Rio that said she was made to leave her work three months to the games to concentrate on training with the agreement that she would be paid her salaries in full on arrival in Brazil.“Since we arrived here, the officials of the Ministry of Sports have not deemed it fit to tell us what has happened to the allowances promised us before the games began.
“I quit my job to concentrate on training for the games. Even the hotel bills I incurred while in Nigeria to join the team has not been refunded to me.
“They told us to purchase our tickets from our stations overseas to Nigeria so that everybody will travel together to Rio. The arrangement was that they will return the ticket fares on arrival in Nigeria, but now they are beginning to sing a new song.”
To avert a repeat of the shameful outing in Rio, a sports analyst, Sabinus Ikewuaku, says the Federal Government must go back to the documents produced after the National Sports Summit in 2012.
“Recently, the minister inaugurated a reform committee to proffer solutions to the nation’s woes, but I think that is a waste of time and resources. There have been many literatures on Nigeria’s sports woes to take care of all our problems. The problem is that nobody cares about these documents produced by some of our best minds.
“The National Sports Summit tackled all the problems affecting Nigerian sports and I believe that if all the suggestions were implemented, the country will be among the leading nations in international sports.“We must not continue to pay politics with the sports sector.”