End corruption in sports, as well as the whole of Nigeria. De-emphasise the almost full focus on football. Bring on board 100s of other sports. Have a plan to groom and vigorously train the young ones. Don’t just seek for raw talents; develop them. Focus on general nutritional improvements for all Nigerian children. Continue to encourage our paralympians.
I had the privilege of flying back into Nigeria with our team to the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Australia. This is not one of those losing teams. They racked up nine gold medals. So it was a pride to be in an airplane chock-full with them from Dubai too Nigeria. The first sign of them was when one of the athletics coaches (who is also an inspector of Police) met me at one of the eateries in the airport. The usual assertiveness of the Nigerian was on display as he looked curiously at the Indian menu on display and loudly disapproved of many of the stuff that was on offer. With the Nigerian mannerisms on display, I had no choice than to engage him in friendly banter.
Now, every competition offers us an opportunity to examine our sports, and in spite of the relative success of this team, the challenges are still there and needs to be engaged. These are my observations about this Commonwealth team:
First, four out of our nine gold medals were won for us by paralympians. This important people in Nigeria needs more recognition in my view. They keep doing us really proud. Their consistent success is indeed a metaphor for Nigerians in that if totally able-bodied men and women will not stand up for their countries, those who are supposed to be physically-disadvantaged, would.
Second, many of the athletes were quite short. Now, there are many sports where short and lean people are best suited but with more and more research and training these days, it is getting more obvious that good nutrition and growth is important to excel in almost every sport. For example, the 100 metres dash used to be the preserve of short, stocky people (like Ben Johnson), until Usain Bolt showed up at 6 feet 4. Now he has proven – as the world’s greatest athlete of this century (except someone more phenomenal shows up), that you can combine height with speed. The issue with Nigeria’s selection is that most of them are raw talents; discovered but hardly groomed. Everyone is on their own to try and make something of themselves. Officials have only been interested in the deals they can do. We should follow the Jamaican example where athletes are put on intensive programmes once discovered. It is also becoming evident that the Jamaicans seem to be getting better nutrition than our children. Recall what Bill Gates told us. That concern of his shows up everywhere.
There are hundreds of other sports that the children of our rich people have learnt as they sojourned in universities abroad. They should not thumb their noses at the country. I believe that all who have something to offer this country should step forward and contribute their respective quota.
Third, there seemed to be a preponderance of Yoruba speakers in the contingent. Given that we can be loud and unabashed, one could almost mistake Yoruba as the lingua franca of the team. This is important to make a number of points. It could be that in the buildup to the meet, the most active axis was Lagos – where my police sergeant coach friend comes from. If others are not ready, no one waits for you. It could also be a strain of nepotism; if some team lead brings his people. It could also be a mere coincidence – most times the closest people to a man in authority are those from his area. Luckily we haven’t heard any complaints in this regard and I may be very wrong but It’s just stating my observations. I make this point especially because it is a fact that we are genetically endowed in different ways. I attended an Army Secondary School growing up, with so much diversity – the reason I cannot be a tribalist, ever. I remember Nuhu Kim and other athletes who were unbeatable in the long distance runs. It is quite embarrassing that every marathon in Nigeria is won by Ethiopians and Kenyans. We have the boys and girls here who are God-endowed for excellence in that area but they are not being groomed. This is an indictment to those concerned. Anywhere from the Plateau highlands, to Adamawa, Borno, and indeed most of northern Nigeria is replete with such athletes. I couldn’t remember seeing a single person who matched such profile in the entire team. I am sure that other nations won medals in long distance and other such sports at the same meet.
This is a good place to leave off the argument. Thankfully this commonwealth game, unlike other international events involving Nigeria, was not about football. That is why we had such a fairly good haul of medals (going by our recent standards). But we need more. We need a medium to long term view. We need to be able to hold our breaths and try to develop our young athletes. This country needs unity. It is disunity that disconnected sections of Nigeria from contributing to our sporting glory. Like they say; sports is war, by other means. That is why the U.S.A, even though it will never agree to be listed as a commonwealth country – because it fought it’s way out of British control instead – competes in Commonwealth games. Countries that are serious about sports see it not as merely a thing of pride to lead the medal table, but a sort of evidence of dominance. We need to start getting alarmed at that level. We too should try and make a point someday.
Our rich folk should also contribute to our national glory. At least they – and their rich children – don’t suffer the usual nutritional issues, and there are sports that only the children of our privileged elite can even access. Those ladies who represented Nigeria at the bobsled event at the winter Olympics have set the pace. We also have the some of a former minister, Seye Ogunlewe, who is reputed as Nigeria’s fastest man though he won no medals at this last meet. There are hundreds of other sports that the children of our rich people have learnt as they sojourned in universities abroad. They should not thumb their noses at the country. I believe that all who have something to offer this country should step forward and contribute their respective quota.
So, there you have it. End corruption in sports, as well as the whole of Nigeria. De-emphasise the almost full focus on football. Bring on board 100s of other sports. Have a plan to groom and vigorously train the young ones. Don’t just seek for raw talents; develop them. Focus on general nutritional improvements for all Nigerian children. Continue to encourage our paralympians. Have a nationalistic view of sports in Nigeria; ensure all who can contribute, are contributing. Also consider the class divide and ensure all classes in society are chipping in.