Pastor — Politician, Rev Chris Okotie recalled recently how millions watched worldwide on television in awe as athletes from Jamaica, the tiny island nation of the Caribbean, collected medals after medals in the sprints at the just concluded London Olympics.
"It all boiled down to preparation, discipline, hard work and good sports administration," he added during a preamble to his sermon in his Church, Household of God, Oregun, Lagos.
Nigerians are shocked that our sportsmen and women went to London 2012 and came back empty handed, while smaller, poorer countries registered their names on the medals table. What does that say about the current state of our nation? When a nation declines there's nowhere else to look but its governance structures. And that includes the sporting facilities and how the youths are engaged in the development of a healthy physical culture for the promotion of healthy mind and body.
It is amusing that even war-torn Afghanistan went away with a bronze medal in taekwondo, a sport in which we had a strong medal hope. In basketball and the sprints, our athletes were expected to, at least, win a bronze. All hopes were dashed as in the few sports in which we competed.
That wasn't the case in previous Olympics. The 1996 Atlanta Olympics was thought to herald our presence in the world's sporting stage because our athletes gave show stopping performances in long jump and football where we won gold. But we couldn't sustain that achievement.
Rather than build on it, we failed to develop our sporting facilities. In frustration, our best athletes moved on to compete in foreign colours, capping a long history of brain drain with this surprising brawn drain that ought to have been harnessed and developed for great competitions like the Olympics. Thus, we went to London, saw, but didn't conquer. We merely participated as tourists or onlookers who watched little countries like Gabon, Grenada, Latvia, Uganda and Kuwait run away with at least one medal each. Something is fundamentally wrong with our country.
Otherwise, how do we explain the fact that out of 79 countries that participated in the London 2012 Olympics, Nigeria is the only country that failed to win a single medal in what turned out to be our worst outing in recent times in any international sporting engagement?
Success in sports, like Rev. Okotie said, does not really come down to economic strength of a nation but efficient administration, good facilities, long-term planning, good youth development programmes and motivation of athletes; the absence of all these accounts for our current sporting woes.
We run a sports regime in which officials sometimes outnumbered athletes participating in sporting events abroad because of estacodes and other financial incentives accruable to travels.
There have been reports of Sports Ministry officials travelling to sporting events with concubines, relations and friends while competing athletes complain of flight tickets and poor feeding and accommodation arrangements. In many occasions our footballers have been stranded in foreign lands, with some held hostage for being unable to settle hotel bills.
Foreign coaches of our teams are known to have abandoned their jobs for lack of pay. This is the signature of our sports administration.
Before we get back to the old clichés: 'We're going back to the drawing board' that our sports administrators often mouth after every disappointing outing like this, let's ask some pertinent questions. Why did we lose our dominance in Africa in sports like soccer, boxing, table tennis, athletics, basketball, swimming and lawn tennis which produced Nduka Odizor, a former top contender in the famous Wimbledon Tennis tournament?
We lost our competitive edge in these sports because of our poor planning, and a sudden craze for soccer, which dominated our attention at the expense of other sports.
Our ministers of sports often function as Ministers of soccer. We were carried away by our initial global success in age-group football tournaments. And when competition became too strong for us in this sphere, we resorted to cheating, fielding over-aged players. We fooled an unsuspecting world for a while until bone marrow test began to expose our players as over-aged. Now, the game is up!
Like the reverend said, our sporting woes cannot be divorced from the rot in our polity, in which cheating, corruption and endemic mismanagement have become the trademarks. By their fruits you shall know them. If our politicians cheat, why won't our athletes do the same? Our sports administrators can't plan because they're products of a disorganised political system.
Small, less endowed nations like Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Cyprus consistently produce athletes that turn out stellar performances in world sports because of sound planning and highly disciplined organisation.
We must get back to the drawing board for sure, but reviving our sport calls for deeper soul searching. Our educational system is lopsided.
There's very little attention given these days to school sports, which used to be the nurseries of our senior sports. Most of our great exploits in sports were rooted in the academicals of old. It remains the fulcrum of any genuine sporting revival we may hope to attain.
Mr Taiwo Gidado, a public analyst, wrote from Lagos.