The 2020 Tokyo Olympics which began on Friday, July 23, 2021 and ended yesterday, Sunday, August 8, was a monumental disaster for Nigeria. On the part of the athletes and given our performances at recent Olympics, the 2020 edition may not be a totally bad outing, but on the part of the officials and our sports administrators, it was another case of avoidable heartaches for sports-loving Nigerians.
Where does one start from? Is it the disqualification of 10 athletes because Nigerian athletics officials failed to conduct enough drug tests over the past several months as required specifically, by Rule 15, which requires “at least three no-notice out-of-competition tests (urine and blood) conducted no less than three weeks apart in the 10 months leading up to a major event? Or is it the scandal over the alleged plot by team officials to reroute Samsung telephones meant for all competing athletes, for which it was alleged that some officials had tried to deny the 10 disqualified athletes from receiving, for a blunder that is of no fault of theirs? Or is it the subsequent protest on the streets of Tokyo by these unfortunate athletes who had spent several years looking forward to Tokyo 2020, only to be told that they cannot compete? Or is it the viral video of Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, a shot putter, seen washing a jersey for his next outing?
Also, don’t forget the absence of our boxers at the games owing to the ineptitude of our sports administrators and the not so transparent manner the Puma sponsorship deal was bungled.
Perhaps, the greatest slip of the country is in athletics, the ban of the 10 athletes, as well as boxing and football where we were not represented at all at the event. At the Atlanta 1996 Olympics we won two gold medals in football with the Kanu Nwankwo-inspired Dream Team and in long jump where Chioma Ajunwa leapt for gold. The other medals were in track and field as well as in boxing, with Duncan Dokiwari winning a bronze in the men’s super-heavyweight category.
Also, in Atlanta 1996, Nigeria got silver in the women’s 4×400 metres relay, a bronze by Mary Onyali in 100 metres and bronze in 400 metres women by Falilat Ogunkoya, who also was part of the quartet that included Olabisi Afolabi, Fatima Yusuf and Charity Opara that won the silver for Nigeria.
Since Tokyo Olympics in 1964 where the nation got her maiden medal; a Bronze in boxing by Nojim Maiyegun, all our medals have come from the three sports apart from the silver won by Ruth Ogbeifo in Australia 2000 in Weightlifting; bronze in Taekwondo by Chika Chukwumerije and Mariam Usman’s Bronze in Weightlifting both in Beijing (China 2008).
Given that our strength lies in football, athletics and boxing, you would think that our ever-lethargic administrators would be better prepared going to Tokyo 2020. Sadly, those areas where we supposedly have demonstrated strength were the areas that the leadership of our sports performed miserably and let the nation down before and during the games.
In boxing, we were conspicuously absent as Nigerian boxers were ruled out following the cancellation of the 2021 World Olympics Boxing Qualifying tournament in France in June, due to COVID-19 concerns and our failure earlier in 2019 to attend the qualifiers in Dakar, Senegal.
The African qualifiers held last February in Dakar were used for the allocation of slots in Africa. This will be the first time since the 1960 Olympics in Rome that Nigeria failed to field a boxer for the games, except the 1976 edition, which was boycotted by the nation.
First, Nigeria Boxing Federation, NBF, unabashedly attributed lack of funds as being responsible for our absence in Dakar, then in a volte-face they claimed they shunned the qualifiers because our boxers stood no chance of winning at the event. When it became obvious that we had fumbled all eyes were now fixed in France, in a last ditch effort to be in Tokyo but that was not to be as the event was cancelled owing to COVID-19 pandemic. That put paid to our chances of being in Tokyo in boxing.
The Dakar event closed with 33 athletes winning their places at the Olympic Games. A total of 198 athletes from 38 countries participated at the Dakar Arena in Diamniadio from 20 to 29 February, competing in 13 weight categories (eight men’s and five women’s events) for a total of 192 bouts.
Of all the nations that attended; Morocco, Algeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Tunisia, Egypt, Namibia, Mozambique, Kenya, Congo, Botswana, Mauritius, Ghana, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire and Seychelles ended up on the medals table. When did our sports degenerate or economy become so bad that we lack the resources to be in Dakar?
Speaking earlier in the year, Director of Federations, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Tayo Oreweme, had said the sports ministry did not release funds for the Dakar trip because the boxing federation could not justify their participation at the qualifiers.
Oreweme said, “The boxing federation was tipped for the qualifying tournament (in Dakar) but in their own wisdom, they went to the one that was not a qualifier (Cameroon). By the time we had a meeting, the NBF board member said the only boxing medal hopeful they had for the Olympics was Efetobor Apochi, who is in the USA. He said they would ensure that he made it to the world qualifying tournament.
“The minister queried that they had just used N12m for the Cameroon trip and wanted to go to Dakar and then come back with stories. We asked for N18bn and the government only assured us that they would give us N2bn, so we were not ready to give it to people who wanted to just go for trial and error.”
Oreweme said they were unable to convince the minister on why they were taking 10 boxers to Dakar when they had only one medal hopeful for the Olympics.
That is the summary of how we bungled our chances of sending boxers to the Olympics. It is a great shame to the Minister, Sunday Dare, that while the officials of NBF were not forthcoming he too did not reach out to them. A more sports-minded minister would have known that, even if not for anything, those boxers would have gained a lot of experience that would come handy in future. That is the difference between a professional sports administrator and a career politician.
In Tokyo, there was also the issue of Samsung Galaxy phones issued as souvenirs to all accredited athletes by Samsung, a major sponsor of the International Olympic Committee. The souvenirs meant for the disqualified athletes were held back by Nigerian officials. But after pressure from the affected athletes, Nigeria Olympic Committee officials said they sought the approval of the IOC before releasing the Samsung Galaxy S21 5G phones to them.
“The letter of approval for their release was signed by Jonas Brun, Junior Project Manager, NOC Relations/ NOC Services,” the statement by NOC stated.
As if that was not enough embarrassment, we had the oga patapata of them all; our athletes openly protesting with placards their disqualification in Tokyo. How much embarrassment can a nation take to get serious?
At the end of the Nigeria Rio Olympics in 2016 where we managed a bronze medal in football, our then beret-wearing minister of sports, Solomon Dalung, promised to establish a system that will enable early preparations for Tokyo, Japan.
He said success in sports no longer depends on skills and determination, adding that “Sports has gone scientific. It is time now to develop sports from the grassroots using sports science. It is not just to compete but we need to be in tune with modern day sports. We can also start to develop other sports like water sports, gymnastics, long distance races, etc.”
That Tokyo Dalung talked about, like others before it, also met us unprepared. As the minister of sports, Sunday Dare, and his legion of itinerant team officials returns, he will also reel those same lines by Dalung. He will also tell us that the nation is returning to the drawing to re-strategize. That is the story of the Giant of Africa.
Kudos to the duo of Blessing Oborududu and Ese Brume for their silver and bronze respectively, which ensured that it was not a barren outing for a nation with lots of potential but without vision and direction in sports.