Why Nigeria always perform poorly at Olympics
Chidi M. Nwachukwu, September 09, 2016
The huge controversy that trailed Nigeria's poor performance at Rio Olympics has once again left the international sports community wondering whether it is a trait of Nigeria to always perform poorly at sporting events such as the Olympics and then look for whom or what to blame for the lapses and losses. Since clinching the gold medal at the Olympics soccer of 1996 in Atlanta, Nigeria's performance in subsequent Olympics (in both soccer and other games) has taken a downward trajectory.
London and Rio have been considered as Nigeria's worst Olympics outings in recent times, happening long after a similar experience at the Seoul Olympics of 1988 when Nigeria finished without any medal. Rio's case was spectacular because of a number of unprecedented anomalies that shrouded it.
It would be recalled that even up to a few days to the commencement of the Rio Olympics, the Federal Government was yet to release funds for Team Nigeria's departure to the venue of the Games. In the previous Olympics, the government earmarked sufficient funds for the team's logistics to facilitate a smooth and successful outing. The Goodluck Jonathan administration committed N2 billion to Nigeria's outing at London in 2012, though Nigeria did not win a single medal to justify the huge financial commitment.
From the Dream Team's late arrival at Rio (6 hours before Nigeria's soccer match against Japan), to the soccer team's threat to boycott their quarter-final match for non-payment of their allowances and incentives, the whole scenario that played out for the Dream Team VI at the Rio Olympics smacked of sabotage and disillusionment.
While some observers of the drama sympathized with the Dream Team over the 'unceremonious handling of its patriotic athletes who against all odds, waded through troubled waters to represent their country at the Olympics, other observers had a field day criticizing the Nigerian government for supposedly neglecting to prepare fully for the team's outing. The performances put up by the Dream Team's athletes pointed to the fact that they (the athletes) were greatly demoralized even though they had trained and prepared for the Olympics.
It was obvious that adequate financial preparations were not made for the team's logistic needs, judging by the extent some of the team members and their handlers went to solicit for financial support for the team. The Ministry of Sports and Youth Development could not offer any meaningful explanation as to how such an unprecedented anomaly occurred. This further intensified the heat of the controversy.
At the peak of the controversy, an apparently miffed Solomon Dalung, Nigeria's Minister of Sports and Youth Development didn't mince words in faulting the athletes' decision to solicit for financial support from corporate bodies. He disassociated himself completely from the Dream Team's undoing and condemned their actions in very strong terms.
Away from that, the Atlanta episode was another embarrassment to Nigeria. The Dream Team was caught in the mesh of the wackiest situation where the athletes and team management were held down in Atlanta for not being able to foot the hotel bills for some extra persons who joined the main contingents selected for the Olympics. According to Dalung, there was actually no budget made for the additional persons, but that their bills were eventually cleared so that the team could proceed to Rio.
When reactions began to trail the unfortunate incident, Dalung managed to defend the situation by claiming that while they were in Atlanta, the athletes were training there rather than idling away, implying that the athletes' late arrival at Rio did not affect their level of preparation.
While stranded in Atlanta, the Nigerian Sports Delegation headed by Dalung, named paucity of the fund as their biggest challenge. AfricaFootball, an online sports media, claimed that save for the timely intervention of John Mikel Obi, captain of the Nigerian soccer team, the team would have missed out on the opening ceremony of the Olympics and its first soccer match against Japan. The report stated that Mikel waded into the imbroglio to save the Dream Team (and Nigeria by extension) from shame, by paying the sum of $4000 to the hotel management which the Nigerian government later refunded him.
Mikel was applauded and branded 'a patriot' by all and sundry, for the noble gesture; and too, speculations spread that it was that noble gesture of Mikel (which inadvertently brought Nigeria's ill-preparation for the Olympics into perspective), that drew Katsuya Takasu's attention to the travails of the Dream Team, and that further led the Japanese billionaire surgeon to spur the athletes to great performance with a promise of juicy cash rewards.
While some cynics have asserted that it was Takasu's promise of cash rewards that gingered the soccer athletes to win the bronze medal, sympathizers of the Dream Team are insisting that the cynics must be made to see that Team Nigeria's acceptance to represent their country at the Olympics in the face of so much disillusionment and disenchantment was indeed born out of their patriotic disposition and love for their country.
The Team Nigeria's sympathizers further alluded to the fact that the soccer players’ threat to boycott their quarter-final match against Sweden was a clear sign that they ran out of patience after discovering that their allowances might be withheld if they did not put up some protest. They concluded that the Dream Team's revolt was nothing short of a preemptive move towards forestalling imminent and avoidable problems.
Over the last 20 years, a lot of questions have been raised with regard to Nigeria's dwindling fortunes in the business of sports. Nigeria's poor performance at the just concluded Rio Olympics has once again thrown up more issues to consider as the nation seeks lasting solutions to its sport-related problems. In the build-up to Team Nigeria's eventual departure to Rio, a chain of problems were spurred up by the government's seeming reluctance to send the athletes to the Games.
Opinions from sports analysts and stakeholders have revealed that the current government is not favourably disposed to sports. This fact was corroborated by a recent statement from Dalung which claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari was pleased with Team Nigeria's outing at Rio, an outing which many sports-loving Nigerians have dismissed as 'disappointing'. The big question is which responsible government will instead of reprimanding its athletes for performing below expectations, commend them?
Feelers, taken from sports-inclined Nigerians, point to the fact that the government did not have the moral courage to disapprove of the Dream Team's performance because it was chiefly responsible for the malaise. Had the government failed to sponsor the team to the Olympic Games after all the time and energy invested by the athletes into training and preparation for the tournament, the most probable outcome of such folly would have been the collapse of the already fragile sports industry. It is quite obvious that Nigeria's sports sector is one of the most unstable of the nation's diverse sectors. This instability in the sector is responsible for the country's backwardness in sports.
Over the years, moves have been made to rebrand and upgrade the sports sector but the expected results are yet to be achieved. The sports enthusiasts have attributed the lapses in the sector to a lack of the will to take decisions and make policies that will favour and bolster the sector. Much of what the so-called sports stakeholders are presently doing to solve the problems is mere guesswork, or 'trial and error', in common parlance. No concrete effort has really been made to nip this problem in the bud. It is clearly impossible to separate Nigeria's serial poor performance in sports from the crisis bedeviling its sports sector.
The sector has had to contend with a legion of challenges ranging from a paucity of funds to unfavourable sports policies. Over the years, sundry policies have been introduced into the sector to tackle the malaise in it but it appears they all lacked the potency to address the real issues militating against the sector. The sector has not been receiving the funding that is commensurate with its gargantuan problems.
From 1988 till now, nothing concrete has been done to improve Nigeria's standing in sports. The handlers of the Nigerian sports business have relied completely on luck and a little professionalism to accomplish the feat that is currently credited to the sector. The approach taken to address the anomaly is so wrong that the flaws can be noticed by almost everyone.
For instance, the Nigerian Olympic Committee has failed severally to prepare for Nigeria's showing at the different Olympic Games. Countries that place priority on sports usually spend an average of four years in preparing their athletes for the tournaments. Some countries even go as far as scouting for very young athletes whom they nurture into becoming Olympic champions. That is the best way to groom athletes and get them ready for a lifetime of successive winnings at the Olympics and other tournaments. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were groomed from their formative years to become world best soccer stars.
Again, the countries that topped the medal chart at the Rio Olympics are the same ones that have been topping the chart since the last 12 to 16 years. This indicates that the performance of those countries can always be predicted, not from watching their showings during the Games, but from checking their levels of preparation for the showing - long before the Olympics commence. America has been recording the highest winnings at the Olympics since ages, a feat it attributes to thorough preparation and a pragmatic approach to issues.
The story of Great Britain's accomplishments in sports is one to learn a whole lot from. As at 1996, Britain was rated among the least performing nations, judging by Olympics standards. It was only able to win a solitary gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996. But after that shameful experience, Britain took a quantum leap in sports development and has continued to grace the top-most rung of the sports-inclined nations. Britain's accomplishments were not accidental; they were planned for. Drastic measures were taking to attain the enviable status that it has come to be known for.
In 1994, Britain introduced the lottery fund to help in generating the money needed to bolster its sports sector but the lottery attained greater popularity only after Britain's poor outing at Atlanta. Against the same backdrop, heavy investments were made towards promoting both the elite and developmental sports through the World Class Performance Programme.
The funds generated were used to shop for the best coaches in the world and integrate them into a streamlined support system, pay athletes their living cost and provide for their support services in order to allow them devote ample time to their career, and hired world-class Olympics Performance Directors to oversee to their mastery of some of the sports they felt would be of competitive advantage to them. A sum of 740 million pounds was guaranteed for a period of 15 years to facilitate the revolution.
The outcome of Britain's huge investment in sports was their clinching 11 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 7 bronze medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. In the following Olympics at Athens in 2004, they finished with 11 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 7 bronze medals. In those two Olympics, Britain came 10th on the medal table as against its 36th position at the Atlanta.
The lessons Nigeria must learn from its previous undoing in sports are legion. But the right steps will include a good financial investment into seeking and nurturing young athletes to becoming world class champions, hiring the best heads to oversee the running of the sports sector, investing heavily in sports, and developing policies that would favour the sector. Winning medals at the Olympics is not a mean feat. It requires substantial funding.
And too, the young athletes being nurtured must be put through rigorous training such that each athlete invests 10,000 hours into training, translating into 2.5 hours per day for a 10 year period, a very feasible feat indeed. If these steps are taken cautiously, Tokyo 2020 will see Nigeria carting home numerous medals