Former Nigerian sprinter and five time Olympian, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, says the minister of youth and sports development, Sunday Dare, commitment to the development of sports at the grassroots is yielding positive results as witnessed at the just concluded delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.
She said the Minister is on the track to replicate what Great Britain did in 2000 that catapulted them to success at the London 2012 Olympics and urged Nigerians to exercise patience.
Onyali, who spoke in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Sports in Tokyo, said 60 percent of Team Nigeria’s athletes to Tokyo Olympics were young athletes within the developmental age category that would probably go on to represent the country in the next three or four Olympics.
Onyali, who is the Special Adviser (Technical) to the Minister, said Nigerian sports under Sunday Dare is witnessing a paradigm shift that will blow off the mind of Nigerians unlike her days where the country solely relied on US’ student athletes.
“The minister of youth and sports development, Mr Sunday Dare, is here to develop grassroots sports and it is shown in our performance in Tokyo. 60 percent of the athletes that made it to the Tokyo Games were young athletes within the developmental age category. From here we are probably looking at, if they keep everything they are supposed to do right, another three or four Olympics out of them but it will depend how disciplined, determined and dedicated they would be.
“When the minister came in, he knew what he wanted and he never deviated regardless of the distractions and all whatnots that came his way. That was why you saw many young athletes spring up surprises in Tokyo. Like you said, completely home grown unlike our days where 90 percent of us were student athletes from the US.
“Yes, we still have some student athletes because we are working on the idea of having them grow here and abroad. There is nothing wrong about having two approaches to success and it is working because out of this 60 percent of our young athletes are student and home grown athletes put together and that was the success you saw in Tokyo because they were the ones that made it to the finals,” she said.
According to her, “Great Britain, 12 years before the London 2012 Olympics, took a group of athletes without ranking but young in mind and body to the Sydney Olympics just to garner experience and that catapulted them to success in the 2012 Olympics which they hosted. If a country like Great Britain would take such a deliberate risk of taking athletes to the Olympics just to gain experience, I think Nigerians should be patient with Mr Sunday Dare. He is on the right track to do something similar to what Great Britain did or better.”