The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games have come and gone, with discussions as to how team Nigeria’s outing was notexactly an advertisement for building and enhancing Nigeria’s sports prowess.
Nigeria’s poor performance at the event was just not the subject of exaggerated assessment in newspapers and across the airwaves. Indeed, it was a case of expectationsoutgrowing abilities, as the campaign lurched through multiple crises due to organizational dysfunction, veeringfrom farce, failure, unrest and, above all, a sense of grueling institutional muddle.
The symphony of problems that greeted team Nigeria’s performance were clearly laid out: disqualification of 10 athletes, following the failure of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) to register the correct number of out of competition doping tests as required by the AthleticsIntegrity Unit; protests staged by the disqualified athletes at the Olympic village; the Nigerian team members wearing mismatched sportswear at the opening ceremony; and puma, the German sportswear brand terminating a $2.7M four year kit contract, given the country’s failure to wear the brand at the Olympic games.
The situation clearly impacted on Nigeria’s performancewhich was parlous in the extreme. Although the duo of Ese Brume and Blessing Oborududu provided some succor by winning Nigeria’s only medals, the distant 74thposition of Nigeria on the medal table is dismal for a country that fizzes with sporting talents.
Yet, it took a cocktail of ingredients to bring about this sorry state of affairs. First up is the long running leadership squabble within the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN),the governing body for the sport of athletics in Nigeria. The row, which broke out between the AFN and the supervisory sports ministry after a faction of the AFNimpeached the president, led to the vice president takingover as the acting president. This culminated in the impeached president’s faction declaring ‘autonomy’ from the ministry at a rival congress in 2019.
The situation was further compounded when the impeached president sought legal redress at the Federal High Court, where he was affirmed as the bona fidepresident of the AFN. Efforts by the World Athletics bodyto steady the ship through mediation proved elusive. The crisis, sadly, produced two separate presidents and boards of the federation at the June 14, 2021 election.
There are also issues relating to inconsistency in the formulation and application of Sports policy; inadequate funding; and absence of a clear sports development philosophy. This is in addition to the late dispensation of funds, where available, as well as lack of maintenance culture, corruption, inadequate preparation, lack of state ofthe art facilities, limited competitions at the grassroots and national levels, lack of an active base in educational institutions, incompetent sports administrators etc.
Sports are, clearly, a vital component of socio-economic development, as it is a medium to advance social cohesion and sustainable development. Yet, the whole system stinks, and the stench will persist until the administration of sports is modified in its present form and are reopened under a new ownership – the athletes. So what now?
The AFN is still plagued by in-fighting and factions that splinter and regroup. Yet, it needs to be realized that whilethe battle for supremacy may be muscular in its approach,its aim is blind and self-injurious in its consequences. Great administrations, it is noted, are based on a coalition (using the word in a social and geographical sense, rather than party political sense) of support. Efforts would, therefore, need to be made to deploy alternative dispute resolution and other dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve the AFN crisis, and make the interests of Nigerian athletes and the country a top priority.
Nigeria would also need to re-evaluate its approach to National Sports Policy, with a view to entrenching it on firmer grounds. Although there is the National Sports Policy of 1989 and 2009, their implementation moonshot never left the Launchpad. There would therefore be the need to formulate a long-term development sports model at all levels of government by initiating programmes aimed at identifying and developing talents through a national elite development programme.
Such move would include grassroots sports development; schools sports development; organization of age group competitions; creation of a national sports funding plan for athletes; organizing relay and national camps; maintenance of sports facilities; sports insurance and welfare, amongst others.
The issue of funding is also in the mix, given itsimpediments to the systematic development of sports performance in Nigeria. While there has always been the pledge to carry out a radical review of sports funding, they have only been able to produce watered down plans that fall shy of what is required. There is, therefore, the need for the enthronement of a coherent and less piecemealfunding model, with a view to addressing the sport funding gap in the country.
There would therefore be the need to look beyond theregular budgetary funding, and explore other sustainable funding sources including the National Lottery Trust Fund,as obtains in other climes such as the United Kingdom, South Africa and Jamaica. Nigeria would therefore need to borrow a leaf from such global trend, given its significant contribution to the improvement of sports in those countries. Adequate accountability measures would also need to be put in place to ensure that the funds are not mismanaged.
Finally, Olympic sports are evolving, with the emergence of some historically European and North American disciplines, including sailing, canoeing, dressage, amongst others. Nigeria, presently, does not have an established structure or performance culture in such events. There would therefore be the need, moving forward, for capacitybuilding by including those events in local competitions,such as the National Sports Festival, State Sports Festivals, National Youth Games, Nigerian University Games, etc.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games has exposed, in glaring relief, the unhealthy state of affairs of sports administration and development in Nigeria. These, therefore, are difficult times, but not the time to flinch or stick to the status quo. This is, indeed, an opportunity to move the dial and change the narrative from the ashes of uncertainty and despair to stability and hope.
Kesiena Igho Oghoghorie
Lawyer, Policy Writer & Public Affairs Analyst, based in Abuja
14th August 2021
An abridged version of this article was published in ThisDay Newspaper on 15thAugust 2