THE 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES AND NIGERIA’S QUEST FOR MEDALS

Lekan Sowande, Abuja

Beginning from Friday, August 5, the world’s attention will be focused on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as the 2016 Summer Olympic Games begin in the South American country for the first time. Brazil is hosting the Olympic Games on the heels of another successful hosting of the greatest individual sport, the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

The Olympic Games is the biggest sports competition on earth with more than 200 nations participating. The Games are held every four years with two years in between the summer and Winter Games usually hosted by the same country.

The modern Olympic Games were first held in Athens, Greece, in the 8th century. Baron Piere de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. The IOC is the governing body of the Olympic Movement, with the Olympic Charter defining its structure and authority.

The evolution of the Olympic Movement during the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in several changes to the Games. Some of these adjustments include the creation of the Winter Olympic Games for ice and winter sports, the Paralympics Games for athletes with disabilities, and the Youth Olympic Games for teenage athletes.

The IOC has had to adapt to a variety of economic, political, and technological advancements. As a result, the Olympics have shifted away from pure amateurism, as envisioned by Coubertin, to allowing participation of professional athletes. The growing importance of mass media has also created the issue of corporate sponsorship and commercialization of the Games.

World wars led to the cancellation of the 1916, 1940, and 1944 Games. Boycotts during the Cold War limited participation in the 1980 and 1984 Games.

The IOC also determines the Olympic programme, consisting of the sports to be contested at the Games. There are several Olympic rituals such as the Olympic flag and torch which is normally taken round countries of the world signifying unity amongst all nations, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies that bring together all the athletes. In Rio, 10, 500 athletes from 207 nations are expected to compete in 28 different sports.

Nigeria will compete in 10 disciplines, namely, Athletics, Basketball for men, Boxing, Canoeing, Football for men, Rowing, Swimming, Table Tennis, Weightlifting and Wrestling.

Since making its debut in 1952, Nigeria has participated in every edition of the Summer Olympics, except for the 1976 Games in Montreal, Canada due to an African boycott. Nigeria has won a total of 23 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing since its debut in 1952.

The national football team won the gold medal in 1996, and silver 2008. As a result of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip the America four by four hundred metres relay team of their medal in the Beijing 2008 after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, the Nigerian team was awarded the gold medal.

In Rio, Nigeria’s biggest hope is in Athletics, Weightlifting, Wrestling and the men’s football event.

Security in Rio has also been a source of concern. Police officers’ protest against unpaid wages and unsatisfactory working conditions have welcomed visitors to the Games. The threat of ISIS-inspired attacks was also brought into focus some days back when 12 people were arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist acts across Brazil.

However, authorities in the country have vowed to handle any terror attempts as Brazilian security agencies have been working with French SWAT teams to simulate attack scenarios and how to handle it. Rio security Secretary, Jose Mariano Beltrame said the agency would deploy an estimated 85,000 police officers and soldiers around the city.

It is hoped that the organisers of the games will have put all these various challenges behind them when the Maracana Stadium comes alive for the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron on Friday.

As the games get underway on Friday, Nigerian athletes should put in their best to put their country’s name on the medal table as against the last London Olympics where they did not win a medal.

As in previous Olympics, one thing is sure; records will be broken with new stars emerging. Even where athletes fail to win medals, they will return home happy as the Olympic charter states that joy of the Olympics is not in winning but in participating.

A.E