WITH ADEBAYO OLODAN
For some decades, Nigeria reigned supreme with the likes of Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, Chidi Imoh, Olapade Adenekan, Olusoji Fasuba, Christie Opara, Chioma Ajunwa and Blessing Okagbare, among others beating other African athletes to first and other major positions in the continent.
Things may no longer be the same as athletes from South Africa, Namibia and Kenya among others have relegated Nigerian athletes to the background.
At the recently ended African Senior Athletics Championships (ASAC) in Asaba, South Africa’s Akani Simbine, stole the show by winning the men’s 100m in a final; Nigeria’s Seye Ogunleye also competed without success. It was the same South Africa that denied our men’s team that ran a time of 38.74 secs, a gold medal in the 4*100m relay.
I was particularly irked when I saw some of our athletes and fellow writers celebrating the silver medal won by the men’s team which comprised of Ogunleye, Divine Oduduru, Egwero Ohio-Oghene and Emmanuel Arowolo. Celebration of silver medal in relay at an African championship held at our backyard (Asaba) shows how unmotivated we have become in athletics.
The Nigerian team led by Blessing Okagbare was however not to be denied a gold medal in the female category of the relay race.
The not too impressive showing of Team Nigeria at Asaba 2018 further attests to the fact that we are yet to get it right at the grassroots in terms of nurturing talents to take over from our ageing sportsmen and women. We cannot keep parading the same sets of athletes in every competition for several decades without discovering and nurturing budding talents.
South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Namibia are doing so well in athletics in the continent because they have put in place developmental programmes that work. These countries discover some of their athletes as early as four or five years and after such discovery, they nurture them to stardom hence they continue to excel in international competitions while our ageing athletes consistently lose out.
Though the Ministry of Sports do line up a number of competitions in the country but the unimpressive showing of Nigeria of late in athletics meets, will leave one to wonder, ‘what is happening to athletes discovered at the grassroots?
Though some young athletes were discovered during the previous editions of the National Youth Games (NYG), it is unlikely the right programmes were designed for any of them to be integrated into the senior team of the nation’s athletes. Beyond that, the objective of NYG is consistently infringed on as some participating states parade over-aged athletes for a competition designed for teenagers. Until the stakeholders revisit such programmes and melt stiffer penalties on erring participants with better developmental arrangement, Nigeria will continue to miss out of medals log in major athletics championships.