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Towards Meaningful, Effective Sports Development

Posted: Sep 26, 2015 at 12:06 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Steve Oma-Fozor,

Lagos (with Agency reports)

Ahead of the just concluded 11th edition of African Games, the Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC), Al-Hassan Yakmut, vowed that Nigeria would surpass its previous records of second and third fiddle positions to come top.

This vow was against the backdrop of Nigeria  termed as the “Giant of Africa” and not being able to establish its authority in continental sports fiestas where smaller countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Jamaica just to mention a few have excelled.

In the words of Yakmut as was widely reported by the media build up to the Games, “We are targeting two things in Congo 2015.

“Our first target is to finish top at the end of the Games, but if by chance we fail to achieve that dream, we have to do everything possible to take the second position. We placed third at the last edition in Maputo and we have to surpass that record in Congo,” Yakmut said.

Interestingly, Nigeria placed second behind Egypt, which was Yakmut’s perceived worst for the team in the 11th edition even as most stakeholders were still not satisfied with it.

Team Nigeria raked in 47 gold 55 and 42 bronze medals after Egypt that had an unassailable lead — 85 gold, 41 silver and 40 bronze medals. However, it was a tough fight as Team Nigeria came from behind to displace South Africa that had been in the second spot during earlier part of the Games.

The South Africans eventually ended their run in third place, having won 41 gold, 41 silver and 40 bronze medals.

Team Nigeria was bolstered by the outstanding performance of powerlifting, athletics, wrestling and boxing — Powerlifting recorded the highest number of medals for the country.

The special sports athletes won 12 gold medals, eight from powerlifting and four in para-athletics; the Track and field won nine gold, wrestling also won nine gold medals, while Weightlifting had eight and boxing four.

Judo won five gold medals, while cycling, table tennis and taekwondo had a gold medal each.

Although, Nigeria placed second against all odds, but the number of gold difference between Team Nigeria and the top placed Egypt should be of concern.

Egypt and South Africa were dominant in swimming and fencing events, which had the highest number of medals at the Games.

Of more concern is that even in Nigeria’s area of strength – track and field, wrestling, weightlifting and table tennis– there appears to have been an “invasion” by other countries.

Cote d’ Ivoire won in both the men and women’s 100m dash; Egypt and the hosts, Congo shared six of the seven gold medals in table tennis, leaving only a gold medal for Nigeria in the table tennis event. One could have thought that with the vast presence of rivers and streams across the country, could have provided an advantage to the country. Sadly most swimming pools in the country are dilapidated. The nations’ swimmers are made to use swimming pools in some hotels and recreational centres that are not of competition standards to prepare for such major Games.

“I must agree with you that there is no way we can come first in these Games, because we are not doing well in swimming,” said Yakmut, in Congo, agreeing that  in future, the country must participate in events that have high medals yielding opportunities.

Amazingly, since the inception of the Games in 1965, it was only in 2003 when Nigeria hosted the 8th edition of the Games in Abuja that she was able to wrestle the first position from Egypt for the first time, even amidst controversy.

Also, Nigeria has since the inception of the Games won a total of 934 medals compared to Egypt’s 1145 medals and just as Egypt’s record has remained unbeatable till date in the Games, at home and away.

Four years ago at the 10th edition in Maputo, Mozambique, Team Nigeria had to cross lots of hurdles to place third in the overall medals table behind South Africa and Egypt in that order at the end of the Games.

However, the excuse put forward then was that the host country, Mozambique, played politics by excluding weightlifting and wrestling, which are considered as Nigeria’s traditional area of strength.

In the same vein, other issues raised by the athletes, coaches and administrators as reason for the third position finishing at the Maputo 2011 was that Team Nigeria also lost ground in table tennis and other combat sports.

In fact, the excuse can keep counting on and on without an end and it is always same old story, just as there is always calls from stakeholders on the way forward anytime the team is not able to meet the expectations of Nigerians.

Similarly, the blame on Nigeria’s poor performance according to some school of thoughts has always also been hinged on poor funding and inadequate preparations as well as the multifarious socio-economic and political problems of the polity.

Also, other schools of thoughts have continuously canvassed the need for Nigeria to concentrate on its area of strength on sports that have more medals rather than spreading its tentacles on all sports as team sports that have only nothing less than three medals-gold, silver and bronze.

Some of the sports with more medals in this regards, according to pundits are, athletics, wrestling, cycling, swimming, weightlifting, boxing, archery, fencing among others.

Thus on the area of strength, former Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President, Tony Urhobo, speaking recently on a television programme monitored in Lagos said that he could revive the athletic glories of Nigeria within a minimum period of four years if given the opportunity.

Urhobo, also a renowned Nigeria athletic coach made the statement against the backdrop that Nigeria may still not get it right at the forthcoming 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, because there are no progressive plans on ground.

“At the moment we don’t seem to be getting it right because our sports foundations are faulty. If I’m given the opportunity to handle athletics once again, I would have a minimum of four years to produce a medal winning team at any level.

“To get a good athletic team is not done overnight. It is something that takes a gradual process. The athletes would have to be monitored from the grassroots, their life style, feeding and every other aspect of their activities must be monitored,” Urhobo said.

However, former FIFA/CAF Technical Instructor, Chief Adegboyega Onigbinde, while corroborating Urhobo on the need for a proper developmental programme, rubbished the call for Nigeria to concentrate on its area of strength.

The tough-talking sports technocratic said that bad management, which has thrived on corruption at all levels of the polity, was the bane of the declining fortunes of sports in Nigeria.

Chief Onigbinde also believed that the economy of Nigeria was buoyant enough to accommodate any programme Nigeria wants to engage to develop its sports, but must be with sincerity of purpose. 

In his words: “It is rubbish to suggest that Nigeria should concentrate on some areas of strength. Nigeria has the strength in all sports, if we are ready.

“The problem of Nigerian sports is simply bad management and lack of planning. Throughout the entire federation, is one saying that each of the 774 local governments cannot produce an athlete that can be a super star in each sport? He queried.

On the economy, “We talk about economy, no money, but some individuals are richer than some states put together in this country. What are they doing with the money?”

Speaking further, Onigbinde lamented that the foundation of sports development in Nigeria was destroyed at the abolition of Teachers’ Training Colleges (TTC).

“The abolition of Teachers’ Training College (TTC) was the collapse of sport development in Nigeria. A glance at the curriculum of the TTC will show you that it is the bedrock of sports development in all ramifications.

“At the TTC then, Physical Education was compulsory. That means sports are taught from the primary school to the highest level. Today, do we have those that can teach sports?

“It is only in Nigeria that sport is taught at old age instead of from the primary level. This is why in our U-17 sports you have fathers and mothers of children claiming 17 years,” he explained.

On the way forward, Onigbinde who said that Nigeria’s second position at the Brazzaville Games was unacceptable called for an effective developmental programme.

“However, the only way Nigeria must move sports forward are for a meaningful, effective management programme to be put in place. Also those that have the knowledge of the game must be allowed to be in charge,” he concluded.

Poor preparation for international sporting activities has become the norm rather than the exception. It has now become our tradition to haphazard prepare for such Games. The absence of modern facilities is another factor that needs to be addressed.

“Most of our athletes that won laurels at the African Games and at other international competitions, emerge, not as a result of adequate preparation or exposure to good facilities, but mainly due to their personal commitment,’’ Yakmut said in Congo.

“I must commend our athletes for their determination and commitment to succeed; the results we are getting from the Games are not true reflections of our preparations and state of facilities.

Another area where Nigeria must improve on is the involvement in the international sports politics.

Truth is that decisions in sports are taken mainly in the board rooms. The North Africa countries dominate in the top positions in continental federations and are able to influence choices of technical officials to handle competitions.

Some Nigerian athletes and coaches in contact sports had complained of bad officiating that robbed them of medals in their events.

President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), Waheed Enitan-Oshodi, noted that non involvement of the country in international sports politics must be addressed.

“It sad that we are not there in international sports politics. I think we have three to four Nigerians in top positions in the international sports federations.

“We are lucky in table tennis that we have two Nigerians in the top positions in Africa and ITTF, which has helped us to a great deal in the areas of technical support and developmental programmes.

“But, for a country like Nigeria not to dominate in the international sports politics in the continent, needs to be addressed by stakeholders,’’ Enitan-Oshodi insisted.