REPOSITIONING NIGERIAN SPORTS AHEAD OF 2021 SUMMER OLYMPICS GAMES
By Salisu Mohammed, Abuja
One of the sectors most hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 in the world is sports. Practically all sporting activities suffered huge setback that resulted in global postponements and rescheduling of games like never before in sports’ history.
Of note is the 2020 Summer Olympics Games, otherwise known as Tokyo 2020, originally due to take place from July 24 to August 9, 2020, but was postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is the first time that the Olympic Games would be postponed rather than cancelled. Despite being rescheduled for 2021, the Games still retained the “Tokyo 2020” title for marketing and branding purposes.
The Olympic Games will now hold from July 23 to August 8, 2021 with or without Covid-19. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists that they will not delay the Games beyond 2021.
The recent meeting between the main organisers of the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Japanese government, reaffirmed the commitment of all partners to deliver a successful Olympic fiesta.
Now that a new date for the Games has been fixed, Nigeria is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure a good outing at the Games.
Since Nigeria made her debut in 1952, her athletes have appeared in every edition of the Summer Olympics Games with the exception of 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada when African countries boycotted the Games in protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Nigeria won five medals, three silvers and two bronze at Olympics 2008, she did not win any medal at the London 2012 Games, while it only got a bronze medal through football in the Brazil 2016 edition.
It is heart-warming that Nigeria is making frantic efforts to improve Nigeria’s performance at the Olympics Games this year. Camps have opened across Nigeria earlier than usual. Athletes were in camp seven months before the commencement of the Games. The first phase of the camping was in Pankshin in the North-central state of Plateau, Akure and Lagos in the South-west as well as Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
The second phase which ended in December 2020 too place in Abuja, and the southern cities of Port Harcourt and Yenagoa. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare said that arrangements were being made to return the athletes to camp early this year to commence a more robust camping, while some of the athletes are being prepared to travel abroad to train with their foreign-based counterparts.
Inadequate fund has always been a major challenge in Nigeria’s sports sector. The dismal showing of Nigeria in many global sports outings has usually been attributed to poor funding or lack of sponsorship.
In order to overcome this challenge, Nigeria launched an initiative aimed at attracting more funding for the development of sports.
Through what it called the “adoption campaign”, all decaying sports facilities in the country are to be revived and athletes will be properly nurtured into world beaters.
The government, through the Ministry of Youths and Sports is calling on private individuals and corporate organisations to pick an athlete or a team and sponsor them to greater heights.
The Minister of Youths and Sports Mr. Sunday Dare said the dreams and aspirations of some potential athletes have been cut short because they lacked support. He expressed the hope that Nigeria’s representatives in Tokyo will be accorded all the necessary support they need to excel.
Since the launch of this initiative, more than a dozen of the country’s Olympic bound athletes have been adopted and will enjoy the financial support that will boost their preparations. Through this adoption they will enjoy the best training, get the best coaches, be able to attend trials and pay the medical personnel needed for world tournaments.
It is also gratifying to note that Nigeria has taken steps to further consolidate her chances at the Games by its decision to compete only in the sports where she has comparative advantage.
She has prioritized 11 sports for the country as against the past where huge sums of money are expended on hundreds of athletes who participate in about 30 sports with no medals to show for it.
The sports in which Nigeria will be competing for medals in the Tokyo Olympic Games are: athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, gymnastics, rowing, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting and wrestling.
It is expected that recent efforts to reposition Nigerian sports will yield dividend at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. However, experts believe that a lot still needs to be done to get Nigerian athletes to be on top of their game.
All over the world, sports is known to require huge capital outlay. The Nigerian government must be ready to invest heavily in sports, upgrade and expand training facilities across the country and ensure that seasoned sports administrators are at the helm of affairs of all sports federations.
Until these are in place, Nigeria may not be able to put up podium performances at global sporting events.