20 October 2012

Nigeria: London Olympics - AFN, Please Spare Us the Rhetoric


If our sports administrators could be like the politicians, Nigeria could have been winning medals from all the Olympic Games we had attended. Just a few months into the first term of the average Nigerian politician, plans are already in the pipeline to secure a second term.

It is this strategy that our sports administrators lack. They wait until it is a few months in the year of the Olympics before they start preparation. Countries that excelled in the last Olympics in London were already preparing for the next Olympics in Rio, Brazil as they were competing in London. That is how to be in reckoning.

Put in two words, the performance of Team Nigeria at the just concluded 2012 London Olympics can be summed up as TOTALLY DISAPPOINTING.

I was thus taken aback recently to read the response of Solomon Ogba, the President of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) regarding the performance of Nigeria's Track and Field team. He went ahead to reel out some statistics which, to him, could be said to be a relatively good outing for the AFN athletes. He was quoted as saying that Nigerian athletes improved on their performances by meeting their targets.

To him, it was amazing that Nigerian athletes qualified for ten semi-finals and five finals of the Olympics. I ask, what did this statistics translate to? Not even a WOODEN MEDAL, even if there is any such thing. He said "I promised that Nigeria would qualify for the semi-finals and from there anything could happen. Therefore there was no reason absolutely to blame the athletes.

US' Tianna Madison (L) and Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare compete in the women's 100m heats at the athletics event during the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 3, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO

They (athletes) did well but as a nation, we did not provide all we needed for the athletes". Is President Ogba contradicting the Minister of Sports, who in faraway London held a press briefing along with top Sports Ministry Officials to x-ray Nigeria's performances and openly admitted that Nigeria performed woefully. Even President Goodluck Jonathan along with millions of Nigerians were unanimous in their views that Team Nigeria to the London Olympics has been the worst sporting outing since the country started attending the Olympics. Instead of putting excuses, the AFN should pull up 'its trousers and get into the trenches'.

All those blowing hot-air (including a majority of Sports Writers) over what Nigeria puts up for its sports, should go and find out what other countries that are winning laurels are doing that we are not doing. All you hear in Nigeria is MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, as if the medals are for sale.

Give Obinna Metu (Nigeria's 100 meters men entrant) all the proceeds from the nation's crude oil sales, he would not have made it to the finals of the 100 meters. In fact in all the Olympic Games attended by Mr. Metu, he has never reached any of the finals of his specialities (100m & 200m). Mr. Metu before going to the London Olympics had boasted to Nigerians that, as he had gone to train with Usain Bolt in Jamaica, he would challenge him for the gold medal at the final. What was the result?

The true training partner of Bolt in the person of Yohan 'the Beast' Blake came a close second behind Bolt at the final. Where was our beloved Metu? He was beaten roundly and could not even qualify for the final. Everywhere you turn to these days, all you hear from the "vultures" in the corridors of sports is that more money should be doled out to motivate athletes, as if that is what is most important.

You must have a sporting policy or programme that the athlete can key into and then he/she would perform. A good sporting policy or programme would cater for the training as well as the welfare of the athletes. Those advocating that athletes should be given money do not really know anything about sports development.

What president Ogba has failed to tell Nigerians are what are his immediate plans and programmes for the next athletics dispensation? Nigerians are fed up with time-worn excuses of no money to prosecute its sporting programmes. To be in contention, a country must produce a defined sporting policy/programmes targeted towards achieving results from regional, continental and world competitions.

In our preparation for the London Olympics, it was the first in the history of the country that it hinged its medals hope on ONLY ONE ATHLETE - Blessing Okagbare. At the end of the day, "Okagbare et al" were woeful in all departments.

The AFN should have known that Okagbare is basically a long jumper and not a sprinter per se. As a former long and triple jumper, I know that both sprinters and jumpers have the same sprint regime. While the sprinter places emphasis on a quick take-off from the blocks and maintenance of the momentum, the jumper on the other hand concentrates on speed build-up as he/she progresses in the race.

This speed build-up is needed to have a powerful take-off from the long jump board. You need the speed to propel you into the air to be able to cover a considerable distance.

The only athlete to have been able to combine both features of a sprinter and a long jumper is the legendary Carl Lewis of the USA. The flaw of the average jumper is often noticed in the very slow start of Okagbare in every race, only for her to pick up as the race progresses.

The AFN should have left her to concentrate on her area of speciality and join in the relays if it was necessary. She could have at least picked up a medal. It's all about precision and planning, which the AFN failed to achieve, despite the last minute employment of Innocent Egbunike as National coach.

Every discerning mind knew that his employment was just a publicity stunt. It was too late in the day to appoint a national coach just a few weeks to the Olympics.

The unnecessary attention given to Okagbare created bad-blood among the other athletes, who felt neglected. Every member of the AFN team should have been treated equally, and not having State Governors and some members of the National Assembly have the impression that all was well and that Okagbare carried the magic wand.

So it was too late in the day for the Sporting Press who later went to town writing and speaking about the 'pressure' placed on Okagbare, due to the undue attention.

Ironically it is the same Sporting Press that had earlier gone to town praising her to high heavens when she managed to beat some top-rated athletes from Jamaica and the USA at an IAAF meet, who were just using the competition to 'warm up' for the Olympics.

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