Opinion: With nothing we went, with nothing we returned

by Oluwatobi Odetola

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire” – Arnold H. Glasgow.

For seventeen days, Nigerians waited in vain for the country’s name to be registered on the medals table. For those seventeen days, Nigerians waited to reap apples where they sowed stones. The truth is I wasn’t one of those Nigerians.

We prepared for this event the same way we have always done. This time, rather than get different results, the returns diminished greatly. Many have opined that the late release of funds for the games is the major reason for our even-dismal-can’t-describe performance at the Olympics. I beg to differ. ‘Release of funds’, early or late, has no place in modern sports.

The problems plaguing our sports are deaf to just voice of money. Without fear of oversimplifying the problems, I say that what Nigerian sports lack is a structure for identifying and nurturing talents to stardom.

If I may ask, what is our national sports policy? What sports have we identified as our strengths and what have we done to train individuals in those areas. What have we done to arouse interest in sports perceived to be no-go areas? What are the exact roles of the government and private sectors in sports development? What incentives do we provide our children with to forgo other somewhat steady means of livelihood to dip a foot in the uncertain waters of sports?

These days, a nation of about 160 million people seems unable to produce athletes that can make the podium at the Olympics and other international sports competitions. The days of YUSFON are long forgotten. The Principals’ Cup is now a blur in our memories (for those of us that know). After access to the American Collegiate sports system became restricted, we have been unable to expose our athletes to standard training regimen. Nowadays, only age cheats are eligible to compete in age-grade competitions. Our children only watch sports, they don’t do sports. The learning of physical education in schools rarely go beyond the four walls (or marked perimeters in some case) of classrooms. What business does a school that can’t provide chairs and desks for its pupil have with building tennis court or gymnasium?

However, some people – either by doggedness or sheer luck – overcome these obstacles and forge a career for themselves in sports. But their victory is short-lived. Heavy defeats lie ahead. They pay out of pocket for kits, footwear, medications, coaching etc. For those that specialise in swimming, rubbing shoulders with algae and competing against tadpoles is the norm.  Events such as the IAAF Grand Prix and Golden/Diamond League are unworthy of our presence. Their country only remembers them when the national sports festival or international competitions come around. We provide them with doctors with anachronistic methods and coaches with outdated knowledge. Yet, we expect to see fit and prepared athletes turn out in Nigerian colours at competitions. A national joke, right?

Success in sports, as in other aspects of national life, requires goal-oriented planning. Unlike our leaders and billionaires, there are no accidental winners in sports. The athletes that would grab the headlines at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 started training years ago. The medallists and most of those that missed out on medals would resume intensive training in earnest.

Yes, sports require money. But sadly, not our kind of last minute money. We are talking about investing in a 6 year old who is interested in swimming and quite good at it too. There has been a raging argument about whose (government or private) laps does the responsibility for sports development fall? Both have a role to play albeit the responsibility for provision of facilities and talent development via public schools lies primarily with the government.

In conclusion, there is something we must all remember: No sector is immune to the prevailing socio-economic situation of the country. Not even sports. An upturn in the economic fortune of a country is in direct proportion to its sporting success. It’s no Hogwarts magic. Economic prosperity would translate into less pressure on children to pursue academic careers, more sporting facilities, increased use of science, higher private investment and so on.

Until then, we have to either celebrate our sporadic success whenever it comes and at other times, share the joy of participation with the likes of Aruba, Cook Islands and Democratic Republic of Timor et al.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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