Tokyo 2020: Way forward for Nigeria

The whole world assembles every four years in the biggest celebration of sports in the world, The Olympics.

Right from the strenuous preparations, several months of intense trainings, the Olympic Games offer pure, undiluted enchantment that has the entire world spellbound. Nothing eclipses it in terms of array of amusement and fun on display to thrill the spectators.

This is just the minor aspect of it. It has far-reaching essence for all the nations that participate in the games. It is not only the festival of sporting excellence at the highest level but much more. The pride that comes with winning the bragging rights, ecstasy of athletes succeeding, and the joyous moments which lead to pure jubilant moods in any nation that gets to the podium.

It appears no nation goes to the Olympics to make up numbers. So it seems in principle, but in reality the reverse is the case. Any nation that inadequately prepares for the biggest sporting events have sufficiently orchestrated to fail deliberately. There aren’t two ways about it.
Nigeria, my beloved country has been going to the Olympics for years, with all due respect to the athletes, but is yet to attain our full potential. As a nation endowed with a sea of talents in every hamlet, we ought to have done much better.

With this established, I will dwell on our recent performance where we finished as 74th on the medals table with a solitary silver and a single bronze. That is two medals for a country of over two hundred million citizens that sent 55 athletes where 10 were expelled even before commencement. It is woeful, abysmal, and beyond the pale. Nigeria should do better.
Some may make excuses that for this poor performance and blame it on our huge population, while others may use that as the reason we have done better. But here are some facts to use and judge fairly.

On the gold medals table, Nigeria’s name is missing because we didn’t win gold, which is understandable. But on the entire medals table, where I have seen some making excuses because of our huge population or otherwise for winning or not winning medals: we did even worse on the per capita table of medals won in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

San Marino, a country with a tiny population of 33,931 citizens, far less than my local government of Gassol, in Taraba State in short, roughly the population size of my Ward, Wuro Jam: average a medal per 11,310 of her citizens because of the 3 medals won. Bermuda a British overseas territory, is second with 1 medal won, this means a medal for every 63,918 of her population. It must be noted that Bermuda isn’t even an independent nation, though it has its Olympics delegation. Grenada with a population barely the size of my local government won a single medal in the summer Olympics: 393,244 average a medal per 196,622 of her citizens. New Zealand with 20 medals and a population of 4,82 233 average a medal per 241,111 of her citizens. This completes the top 5.

Russian Federation with 71 medals won and a population of 144,1096,512 has a medal for every 2, 029,532. This makes it the number 41 on the table. The United States who was the overall winner of the Olympics with 113 medals and a population of 331,002,652 has a medal per 2,929,227 of her big population. Brazil with 21 medals and a population of 212,559,417 has a medal for every 10,121,877.

Astonishingly, even China, the most populous country in the world, with a population of 1,439,323,776 has a medal per 16,355,952 of her citizens because of her 88 medals won in Tokyo. Indonesia with a population of 273,523,615 sits 91 on the table with 5 medals, this makes it a medal for every 54,704,723 of its citizens, is also ahead of Nigeria. Nigeria with two medals is only above India on the log: with Nigeria’s 206,139,589 estimated population, it has a medal per 103,069,794 of her citizens. This makes Nigeria 92nd on the list. India with 7 medals and a population of 1,380,004,385 has a medal per 197,143,483 of her citizens. This is a sample of how the per capita table looks.
Nigeria ought to have done better and must do better. There is no room for excuses. We must decisively work towards a greater future for our dear country. To argue otherwise would be suicidal or rather a fatal blow to the aspirations of an ebullient, cerebral, and talented nation that should be aiming for the pinnacle half of the overall table. Once we are successful in doing that: Nigeria’s claim of being the giant of Africa will be valid, especially in sports.

Talking about the giant of Africa, I believe it definitely isn’t in sports. Looking at the medals table most of the biggest economists and most developed nations are at the upper part of the table. It is saddening to see the ‘Giants of Africa’ languishing far behind in the world and not among the top 5 in Africa. When we should be fighting for the summit, no, not in Africa. For even the best in Africa, Kenya with 10 medals won in the just concluded Olympics had one of her worst performances in recent years.

Hence, we can’t use them as a model of success. Certainly, it is not enough to be the best in Africa or 19th in the world, if your performance is nothing to write home about. I followed Facebook posts where so many Kenyans bitterly complained about their nation’s dire performance despite being the best in Africa. I felt that is exactly how an ambitious and visionary nation should behave. Not the reveling of mediocrity for political sake or any other reason.

Do not get me wrong. I don’t mean our athletes shouldn’t be rewarded. All our Olympians should be rightfully taken care of. For adorning our national jerseys and deriving joy in representing our country, they deserve some accolades. But that should not deter us from being accountable for our nation’s performance. It is the right thing to do for any nation that craves excellence has to do the proper thing. You don’t become the best by wishful thinking. Concrete efforts have to match ambitions for us to effectively make impact.

Going forward, Nigeria needs to deliberately plan to succeed. The fire brigade approach in Nigeria’s preparations for Olympics must be discarded thenceforth. It has not yielded any positive results. It will never ever do. Nigeria’s desire to perform well at the Olympics should go with meticulous plans on ground.

We must commence from the basis. Nigeria’s policy of education has to create room for sports right from Primary school. Physical and Health Education must not only be on paper. Today, it exists in most schools even in urban areas on paper. There is no corresponding example in reality. If we cannot get it right here, then there is little chance of getting it right at bigger stages. Government at all levels must provide ample funds for the execution of a lot of projects.

In the just concluded Olympics, Nigeria competed in 10 sports namely: Athletics, Badminton, Canoeing, Swimming, Basketball, Gymnastics, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Wrestling, and Rowing. There are sports that Nigerians are quite good at. There are sports that we admire as Nigerians. There are sports that we have prospects in, but have completely ignored. We must identify all these and put these sports to where they belong.

Once this is done, the next thing is to provide funds for building sports complexes, stadia, or any sports grounds based on our sporting priorities which must be rooted in sporting preeminence. With that completed, we should hire coaches, or rather trainers. And be certain they are sufficiently catered for, given all the assistance for advanced training in tackling tough and highest level of sports: all these must be adequately funded for effective execution of these plans.

The Covid-19 pandemic, terrorism, kidnapping, inter-tribal crisis, dwindling oil revenue, and other factors in Nigeria are huge challenges. However, this shouldn’t be the reason to not seek ways to sponsor such a laudable plan. We could do so by using all options, plans, or partnerships to get the desired result. Spirited efforts must be made by all Nigerian sports enthusiasts, policymakers, and corporations to deliver the intended result.

Alternatively, in order to save cost we could use the existing sports infrastructure to conduct inter house sports competitions, inter local government sports contests, interstate sports competitions, youth sporting events, National Sports festivals and other sporting events that will produce promising athletes that will become our Olympic torch bearers.

The bottom line is, government must encourage more participation in sports under a conducive sporting atmosphere.
All these are doable , with a state backed up programme to salvage our dear country and set her on course for its glorious days.
Sansani writes from Jalingo, Taraba state.