PLEASE forgive me. I thought that the Italians were only famous for the beautiful game – soccer. Italy isn’t really an unknown quantity in others sports such as athletics – they were, however, alien to the 100 metres with due respect to their nationals. Okay, let me put it this way. Nobody would have placed a bet on any Italian being the fastest man in the world in 100 metres in a field of eight finalists having Americans, Jamaicans, Nigeria (why not) etc. But it happened at the final of the male 100 metres at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games showing how fluid winning laurels in sports can be with articulated preparations.
Lamont Marcell Jacobs is the fastest man in the world with 9.8 seconds in the men’s 100 metres race. A few athletics guru have stated that Jacobs has an American father and an Italian mother. Bottom line is that Jacobs chose to represent Italy. Well done, knowing he stood no chance to break into the American athletics team. Probably.
Did I hear you say that the Italian, Lamont Marcell Jacobs placed third at the qualifiers in the group where Nigeria’s Enoch Adegoke finished first? Please don’t start any form of comparison. Part of the problem with the country’s sports federations – not being abreast with the new tricks of the game. The Italian just ensured he qualified for the next stage in the road towards being the fastest man in the world. Talk about a lad saving his best performance for the last. Lesson for our athletes, coaches and our sit-tight administrators.
The most dramatic of all the events at the Olympics was in the men’s high jump where an Italian, Tamberi and a Qatari, Barsham scaled the 2.39 metres height, leaving the officials to declare the event a draw with each credited with a gold medal. The Italian’s joy knew no bounds as he leapt on the Qatari, happy that his rival had accepted the draw verdict in the high jump event. Sports unite competitors. The big question is how this medal would be represented on the medals table. Would it be for Italy? Would the same event be credited to Qatar as a gold medal? What happens to the silver and bronze medals? Is it that the silver medal wouldn’t be counted or tagged a gold medal while the bronze medallist at the jumping pitch keeps his medal? Different strokes for different people. It shows how fluid the rules are in sports and how dynamic the events can be. I know for a fact that the next edition would decide the rules for such ties in the 2024 Olympic Games.
The biggest joy in Nigeria for the neutrals is that Nigeria’s name is among the comity of nations that won a medal at the Olympics. Blessing Oborududu lost to her American counterpart, who was beating her for the fifth consecutive time. No prize for guessing that the American is the best wrestler in the event in the world. As for Ese Brume, it didn’t come as a surprise that she made a podium appearance in the women’s long jump, having dominated the scene at the youth level. her leap of 6.97 metres tied with the second-placed jumper though Brume had to console herself with the bronze, which looked like gold considering her age.
As Brume ran towards the jumping pit, my mind raced back to August 2 in Atlanta in 1996 watching Chioma Ajunwa jump to glory in an event the Americans had dominated. the Americans were beaten to their game right in front of their nationals – it wasn’t a pleasant sight to sit inside the stadium for the hosts as Ajunwa reached for the country’s green-white-green flag held by a little girl in the crowd to embark on her lap of honour as an Olympic Games gold winner. Yes, it was a borrowed flag because nobody gave Ajunwa a dog’s chance to upset the applecart. But she did in style.
This writer feels strongly that Nigeria needs to invest in Brume, if we want a repeat of Ajunwa’s feat in 2024. It is possible. That is the way other countries plan and succeed to win gold medals at the Olympics.
In her post-match reaction, Oborududu said “I am just super excited and I want to say thank you to all my supporters and the Federal Government of Nigeria for the encouragement.” She also changed her mind from retiring from the wrestling mat. She has chosen to undergo knee surgery, which goes to show the level of risks our athletes take to win laurels for this great nation burdened by poor leadership in all spheres of human endeavour here.
Not many Nigerians would want to discuss how the wrestlers fared in Japan, without shedding tears for Odunayo Adekuoroye, who lost to a Moldovan via pinfall, despite leading 8-0 before the unfortunate technical knockout decision, as they say in boxing. Hard luck Odunayo because you gave the preparations for this Olympics your best shot. It wasn’t going to be your Olympics. See you on the mat in 2024.
Oborududu’s silver medal signposts how infectious good leadership can rub off on any group. More so, when the leader is a former Olympic gold winner such as Nigeria’s team had in Dr Daniel Igali. Igali partook in the training sessions and got the wrestlers to trust him, hence they gave everything to make him happy.
Igali shared his thoughts on reasons Nigeria can celebrate the silver medal by praising all the Bayelsa State governors for their contributions. Who says that sports shouldn’t start from the states? The states own the schools, the stadia and have the cash to pick one sport akin to their areas and support it.
According to Igali in one of his writings said: ” Honestly, as I have stated elsewhere, sports is not cheap. If we want to reap medals that befit the status of Nigeria, we must ensure that all Olympic sports federations in Nigeria are given the needed funds quarterly to prepare its teams. We must also ensure that we have the needed manpower to support the federations in administration and at the technical level. There are no shortcuts. Money and planning are what matters at this level.
”Two million dollars is more than 1 billion naira today. The United States wrestling federation’s budget over the last quadrennial was between 12-16 million dollars annually. That’s about 6-8 billion naira yearly. That is probably the whole budget of all 28 Olympic sports federations and other non-Olympic sports federations budgets yearly for Nigeria. Mind you we pay the same flights, the same affiliation dues, buy virtually all sports equipment at the same price (since we hardly produce anything anymore) and we are expected to compete and beat them.
”Take a look at the top 10 nations with the highest gold medals at the current Olympics and compare the sports budgets, you will then see the clearer picture. I know we will go back to Nigeria and continue the normal cliché about starting preparations early for 2024. Individually and collectively, we must put our money where our mouth is,” Igali said.
Countries such as Nigeria have gone to Australia to study their model, culminating in the need to improve on the facilities inside the Nigeria Institute for Sports (NIS) to attain the standard required. Sadly, policy somersaults arising from frequent changes in sports ministers have left the NIS in ruins, only producing half-baked coaches, whose certificates are not better than the foil used to wrap bread, only to be flung out the moment the content has been eaten.
Of course, with a government that pays lip service to corporate sponsorships for sports, the blue-chip firms are not inspired to take the initiative. Even the few sports federations that seek sponsorship from these firms are unconvincing to a prospective sponsor when asked what a sponsoring company stands to gain from such investments. This will even be worse now considering the tightened noose on the economy- a development that has left many firms rethinking their spending portfolio. And for such firms, every kobo for sponsorship must be worth their while for their return-on-investment.
In other climes, government has incentives for firms that support sports such as tax holidays and/or rebates. Most of our federations are handicapped by the kind of members they have who are mainly self-seekers, craving to get into their federations’ international bodies. It doesn’t matter if the sports they superintend don’t organise one competition in their four-year tenures.
If Nigeria must excel at the 2024 Olympics, then most of the federations should be swept clean.
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