To say that Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was a complete disaster is putting it mildly. This is one Olympics that many Nigerians are willing to erase from their memory. Not because the athletes were not ready to compete but because the sports administrators betrayed an abysmal lack of seriousness that rubbed off negatively on the morale of the whole team.
It is pertinent to recall that Nigeria earned her best performance so far in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when the men’s Football team christened Dream Team clinched the gold while Chioma Ajunwa also clinched gold in the track and fields event. Since then Nigeria’s sports have been on a downward trend. Regrettably, both the men’s and women’s football teams failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. For most Nigerians, this is a cardinal sin.
This newspaper is appalled that everything went wrong on Nigeria’s road to Tokyo. First, PUMA had entered into a sponsorship deal with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) in July 2019, in Doha. The deal was reportedly worth about N1 billion [$2.76m]. Among other highlighted benefits in the contract was supplying apparel to all age categories to Nigeria’s Athletics team for four years at no cost.
In addition, gold medalists at the Olympic Games will earn $15,000; silver medalists will get $5,000, while a bronze medal winner would get $3,000. However, due to some reasons, Nigeria’s athletes didn’t wear the brand at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics propelling PUMA to announce the termination of its four-year contract with the AFN. The sports administrators have, however, denied any deal with PUMA.
Similarly, the German sportswear manufacturing giants has given a hint that it intends to sue the AFN and Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports because Nigeria breached provisions of the contract by not wearing the kits at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Another show of shame in the Olympics was the disqualification of 10 out of Nigeria’s 23 track and field athletes because they did not meet the minimum testing requirements under Rule 15 of the Anti-Doping Rules. The athletes did not receive the minimum amount of out-of-competition testing leading up to the Games to compete.
It is instructive to note that the AFN, the ministry of youth and sports development, and the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC are saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the athletes undergo the tests in the build-up to the Olympics as prescribed by the World Athletics rules.
The athletes had taken to the street of Tokyo to protest carrying various placards with inscriptions such as “We are not just alternate but are potential medalists”, “All we wanted to do is to compete,” “Why should we suffer for someone else’s negligence?”
Nigeria was also on the wall of shame map, when a trending video showed Nigeria’s shot put athlete Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, washing his jersey ahead of his final game at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The TikTok video was initially uploaded by the athlete on his Instagram page, @thechuksay, before he deleted it.
The caption in the video indicated that the athlete was given one jersey for the competition. “When you made the Olympic Finals, but you only have one jersey,” he wrote. This is embarrassing.
It is gratifying to note that Ese Brume won a Bronze medal in a long jump while Blessing Oborududu took silver in the freestyle wrestling. Sadly, Nigeria performed poorly in the track and field events an area where the country had a comparative advantage.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, in saner climes, the minister and officials would have tendered their unreserved apology and followed it up with resignations for these show of shame at the Olympics. As usual, after some weeks, Nigerians will move on till the Paris Olympics in 2024. Also, apart from the blame-storming, we need to face the reality that some of our athletes are not good enough to compete at the highest level.
We strongly suggest that Nigerian athletes should start preparing for the Paris 2024 Olympics from now. Local talents should be discovered, nurtured, and prepared for the Olympics. We also frown at the practice of discarding home-based athletes for their foreign-based colleagues on the eve of competitions. This practice is counterproductive.
The government and private institutions should invest massively in sports and also develop other sports apart from the usual ones. The more athletes we take to the Olympics, the more our chances of winning medals.
In view of the foregoing, we call on the presidency to institute a special probe into the shambolic performance of team Nigeria at the Olympics. We insist that heads must roll.