The minister of youth and sports development, Sunday Dare, said the focus of building the next generation of talented Nigerian athletes that will showcase the country’s name at the global arena has begun.
Dare said that out of 60 Team Nigeria’s athletes at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics
in Japan, 39 are debutants but diamonds in the rough, urging for a private sector driven ‘Athletes Development Programme and Funding’ for consistently training and development of the athletes.
“Nigeria, perhaps, has one of the youngest crop of athletes at the Olympics. Out of Team Nigeria athletes, 39 of them have never been to the Olympics. They are debutants, but diamonds in the rough. About 20 are under 30, young. The building of the next generation of talented Nigerian athletes has just started. The focus should be on their effort and commitment and not just on medals,” Dare said.
Dare, who spoke on the sidelines of the Tokyo 2020 Games against the lack of podium finish for Nigeria’s athletes so far, seeks support for consistently training and development of the athletes.
“Nigeria’s sports need a National Athletes Development Program as well as a Sports Development Fund urgently, to be run independent of Government and driven by the private sector.
“I will be more aggressive with engaging the private sector. We need our sports infrastructure activated and equipped. We need a cluster of multi-purpose sports centers or community sports centers to attrack our young ones, like Rowe Park in Lagos.
“We will tinker with a new National Sports Industry Policy by expanding the areas of athletes’ grants and training, government funding and commitment to sporting infrastructure development. There are few fundamentals we have to walk away from when it comes to sports administration. We will seek a return by God’s grace.”
Against the calls that only athletes with medal prospects should represent Nigeria at the Olympics, Dare insisted that, “Nigeria should keep the plan that brought us here. Not just medal winners but as many that meet the qualification standards in the chosen sports. Experience matters at the Olympics.
“Most of the medal winners have been to two or more Olympics. I saw how lack of experience robbed two of our young and talented athletes medals – Elizabeth in Taekwondo, Uche in Gymnastics and Esther Toko in Rowing who eventually secured a good Olympic classification. Our size this time is tight and deliberately so. Without the team sports of basketball in the male and female categories, our total athletes to the Tokyo Olympics could have been around thirty.
He however noted that Nigerians were right to have high expectations in the country’s participation in the Games.
“One must always enter a race with high expectations. That’s almost a rule of the thumb in life. You start a business with the expectation that you will make lots of profit. You enter school to come out with the best honors. You compete with the expectation to win. My expectation was not too High. It was rightly placed so, especially backed by data in some sports where we have high flyers and world rated athletes such as wrestling and athletics and Table Tennis. Tobi Amusan. Blessing Okagbare. Ese Brume. Divine. Adegoke. I can go on and on. And the dominance of our male and female basketball teams. Enough tonic to get pumped up. Nigeria still has great hopes of success at this Olympics.
“As a country we want to win and we want to see our stars shine, but their value to us is not measured by single performances or competitions. Most of our athletes are young and debutants – experiencing the Olympics for the first time. They remain committed patriots who gave their all and I have nothing but pride for their tenacity and commitment to deliver smiles to the faces of Nigerians. We have started building a new generation of Young Nigerian athletes. There is much hope,” the Minister assured.