Administrative-wise, it is a disastrous outing for Team Nigeria at the ongoing 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. That 10 athletes were disqualified in silly circumstances is reminiscent of serial maladministration of the country. The latest gaffe exposes the current crop of sports’ handlers as the same old square pegs in round holes. And in saner climes that do not share in our misfortune of inept leadership, a payback should be waiting for the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, and his Cowboys, for the fiasco that is tantamount to perfidy.
That Tokyo 2020 is not an all-time low is a popular argument out there. After all, Nigeria already won two medals and likely to bag the third before the games race to the finish line this weekend.
It is for such cherry-picking that some have said the outing wasn’t so bad for the Nigerian contingent, and summarily exonerated the minister from blame. That sounds like a ‘half-bread is better than none’ or ‘at-all at-all na hin spoil market’ type of self-consoling worldview. But such a mediocre thought process has lost its purchase in modern societies. That it has endured around here explains why public officeholders get away with malfeasance and Nigeria keeps going backwards rudderless.
Some facts of the matter: It so happened that 10 out of the 22 Nigerian athletes listed for the track and field events were in one fell swoop disqualified by the Athletic Integrity Unit (AIU) of the World Athletics. The elite athletes, who should know the rules, allegedly violated Rule 15 of the anti-doping regulations, which mandated three out-of-competition tests before a major tourney. Last year, Nigeria found itself in the Category-A position of countries with the highest risk of doping. Rule 15, therefore, applies to all Nigerian athletes – “to undergo 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”.
It suffices to note that the AIU disqualified a total of 20 athletes from 206 countries participating at the Olympics. Half of them are from Nigeria!
More outspoken athletes have blamed the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) led by Tonobok Okowa, and Nigeria Olympics Committee (NOC) for the negligence and poor job in housekeeping. AFN has the responsibility to produce our best athletes, while NOC owns Team Nigeria at the Games, and their interface with the governing rules. About two months to the Olympic games and while other serious countries are ticking the boxes, AFN officials were fighting one another, splitting into factions, and fighting for selfish interests. So, the AFN was a self-destruct button. The Okowa-led AFN also pushed back, blaming the other faction led by Ibrahim Gusau, for not reminding Team-Okowa and athletes of the rules! The Gusau-led faction claimed to have warned on the same issue about eight months ago. The conclusion is that it was a tardy road to the Olympic Games. AFN failed in due diligence and NOC did not crosscheck. Talk of clowns, institutional negligence and rancid trash.
The overall implication of the ban is more harrowing. Since news of the disqualification broke, chaos had erupted in the Nigerian camp, and almost everything went south on the field of play. Scandalised athletes went on protest, therefore, unsettling remaining medal hopefuls. Blessing Okagbare, the brightest medal prospect, was handed a provisional suspension for testing positive to Human Growth Hormone substance. The 32-year-old awaits the final verdict that may earn her at least a two-year ban. It is neither good for Blessing nor the country. In the aftermath, all Nigerian athletes are now dope suspects and a threat to overall integrity of the sport! Just when you think you’ve seen it all, history begins to repeat itself in new attire.
Indeed, fish rottens from its head and we can blame President Muhammadu Buhari for everything that goes awry in the country. But we should not overlook the lieutenants he has appointed to preside over affairs. For Youth and Sports Development (an ambiguous mishmash, if you ask me), it is Sunday Dare – a notable figure with a track record in journalism. But as a sports’ administrator, he has failed in his remit and that is self-evident in Tokyo that started one-year behind schedule.
Without doubt, effective management of sports and undoing rots in a vast and diverse country like ours cannot be an epic joy ride. But it does not require a rocket scientist either. Where a proper reform is an afterthought, as the Sports ministry has been for ages, failure should not be a surprise. First, Team Nigeria has consistently had dismal outings at the Olympics with the best in Atlanta 1996. How come 2020 Tokyo is not an improvement in team organisation and preparation? Second, the Olympic year is always turbulent for most sports’ federations and their hierarchy. How come the crisis repeated itself right under the watch of Sunday Dare and his advisers? Third, sport is a big business. For Federations that claim autonomy and beyond sanctions of the Sports Ministry, how come they are still unmarketable to the private sector and the government keeps indulging their incompetence with free money that keeps freeloaders preying on sports? All put together, the minister is aware of the shoddy preparation and the calamity waiting to happen. It is perhaps for that reason he relocated to Tokyo as the Incident Commander. However, if people have been employed and paid to do a job, yet failed, then they are all deserving of sanction, including the minister that supervised the whitewash.
Lastly, it is true that sport is a mirror-effect of the country itself. But sport is too big an enterprise and a centripetal force of national unity to be abandoned to politicians and birds of passage. It makes no sense to rally our best sportsmen across the globe, yet give them over to philistines pretending to be sport administrators (the reason Nigeria cannot keep its bests in the first place). Above all, the next Olympics is upon us in less than three years. Effective preparation should begin with having the right people with the right experience on their side, and can rise to higher standards that the business of sport demands. Ire o!