by Akintunde Oyebode
The first time I was rewarded for knowing some random fact was at a quiz during my friend’s 10th birthday party. His mum owned a bookstore, so instead of the more athletic musical chairs contest, she organized a quiz to give books out during the party. There were contestants left; a girl whose name I can’t remember and yours truly. I don’t know what made me more nervous: the thought of losing to a girl (unthinkable at the time, but something I’ve experienced often from common entrance till date) or the allure of winning copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
The final question was “What is the motto of the Olympic Games?” I won my first prize with three words: Faster, Higher, and Stronger. I didn’t know that Baron Pierre de Coubertin had stolen that phrase from his friend, Father Henri Martin Didon; but I knew it meant to inspire minds and bodies to dare to reach heights previously unimagined. A few weeks ago, I was sharing some cognac with a South African friend when he dismissed our chances of winning one medal at the London 2012 games; I was livid and reeled out medal hopefuls. Blessing Okagbare’100m women and long jump); Mariam Usman, weightlifting; Ajoke Odumosu, 400m hurdles women; and Tosin Oke, Triple Jump. With that shortlist, and the knowledge that South Africa left Beijing with one medal in 2008, I took a bet with him. Simply put, whoever had fewer medals had to part with some currency.
This was the Nigerian in me speaking; the one who thinks despite zero planning, there is an unbreakable spirit that will ensure we succeed. The one that paid little attention to the poor coaching system in the country, our inability to ensure talent is spotted and nurtured, oblivious to the personal sacrifices of our athletes and coaches to ensure the green and white participated at these games. Sometime today, at the “Nigerian House” in Stratford, the Nigerian Minister of Sports will review Nigeria’s performance at the London 2012 Olympics and the way forward. I don’t envy him; he will attempt to speak about a topic he has limited knowledge of, and has not supervised for more than a few months, it is a thankless task. Perhaps, he will explain how we can prevent witches and wizards from jeopardizing the performance of our athletes in four years when the world assembles again at Rio de Janeiro.
The tragedy of this experience is that we will always forget, and we will move on to other things. In four years, we will turn up in Rio de Janeiro, and hope Angel Gabriel can anoint one gold medal winner from 160 million of us. It does not matter that we don’t have a school sports calendar, or a domestic competitive structure. As someone pointed out last week, the most active part of the National Stadium in Lagos is the beer parlour where Guinness and Nkwobi are digested with gusto. We will turn up with 50 athletes, 150 officials, and hope to win a few medals. Even if we don’t win any medals, it is the Olympic Games. After all, the most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” For Nigerian officials, that means shopping sprees and potential dates with lovers.
Last night, I received a text from my friend saying I should send his stash to the Sole of Africa, a charity devoted to the detection, identification and removal of land mines. He chose that charity because his idol, Oscar Pistorius, is an ambassador. He made a note to give to the charity this month, but he realized his electricity bill would be much higher. So, when I threw the gauntlet down, it was a chance for him to achieve both objectives. It was a reminder of how careful planning trumps hope, and why our failure is likely to continue for a long time. He also reminded me that Bekoji, an Ethiopian town of 1700 people, produced more Olympic champions than my dear Nigeria. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down.
As I licked my wounds, I remembered the wise words of my long departed grand-father, a fool and his money are soon parted.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.