With Adebayo Olodan
Being an athlete from Nigeria comes with a lot of challenges.
While your colleagues from other countries get first rate treatment from officials and government of those nations, Nigerian athletes are often subjected to harsh conditions ahead of major competitions.
12 years after our athletes were treated like ‘lepers’ by the government ahead of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, nothing seemed to have changed as our sportsmen and women battle for honours at Gold Coast, Queensland in same country.
The memories of how our sports administrators caused us an embarrassment at the 2016 Olympics Games as the kits for the opening ceremony did not arrive Rio de Janeiro, Brazil until the day of the closing ceremony.
Ahead of the quadrennial Commonwealth Games in Queensland, the athletes were engaged in close-camping for a short period. To make matter worse, at the Abuja and Port Harcourt camps and other spaces, they were reportedly subjected to mosquito bites and lack of adequate water and electricity supply.
Also, they were denied the opportunity of training with first rate facilities and unlike in the past, the government never offered them an avenue to have foreign exposure in terms of participating in competitions abroad before the games proper.
In addition, the athletes were reportedly owed backlog of training and camp allowances leaving some of them with medals’ prospect to switch allegiance to other countries with better welfare package. One of such athletes to have defected to another nation is one Emmanuel Bamidele, an athlete who completed men’s 400m under 45.28 seconds and had been named in the 37-man squad after he emerged the best in that category during the trials conducted by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN). According to reports, the sprinter has teamed up with an oil-rich nation.
Despite participating in table tennis, boxing, weightlifting, athletics, basketball, wrestling, para-power-lifting and para-athletics, the number of the nation’s sportsmen and women I learnt is slightly under 50 but surprisingly, a 35-member delegation I was told was sent by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to Queensland. The missions of such staffers who are likely to include the mistresses of top officials remain shrouded in mystery to me.
Instead of wasting huge sum of money from tax payers’ money as estacode on those ministry officials, it would have been more productive if such fund is invested in the athletes that are representing our nation.
Yet, with such ‘gutter treatment’ meted to those athletes, our ‘Boys Scout’ Minister, Solomon Dalung, will expect them to claim virtually all the laurels that will be on display in Australia.
Since the inception of the Commonwealth Games in 1950, Nigeria has competed at 11 outings as a member of Commonwealth nations. Our athletes missed out only on four occasions – 1962, 1978, 1986 and 1998. Since the country debuted in the multi-sport quadrennial event in Auckland, New Zealand in 1950, the country’s profile has continued to rise.
Our athletes have never failed in placing the nation on the scoreboard of the sporting feat with the 1994 event our best outing till date as Nigeria won 37 medals. At Delhi, India in 2010, the nation won 33 medals but four years later in Glasgow, Scotland, our athletes won 11 Gold, 11 Silver and 14 Bronze medals.
Though there have been some impressive performances from our camp, it is unlikely our athletes repeat the feat of the previous years following complaint of backlog of allowances reportedly owed them and threat by some of our sportsmen and women to pull out of the competition at the early stage.
During the men’s 100m, Enoch Adegoke ran an inspiring 10:24 seconds in the semi-finals to place first in his group but ended up finishing a disappointing fourth in the final.
Despite the challenges faced by our athletes in preparation for the Games, a few of them through commitment and determination will come home with laurels.