[dropcap type=”1″]T[/dropcap]HE way the cookies crumble. This phrase aptly describes Nigeria’s performance at the concluded Beijing IAAF World Championships. Again, the story for Nigeria was not palatable. While other African athletics giants, like Kenya and South Africa and Ethiopia, and the not too strong ones, like Eritrea, Egypt, Tunisia and Uganda all featured on the medals table, Nigeria returned with zero medals.

The bad omen started with Nigeria’s brightest athlete, Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor (now going by her hyphenated married name), who had been exceptional, leading to this all important season’s event.

[quote_box_center]Okagbare finished last in the 100m race and failed to show up for the 200m event afterwards. Triple jumper, Tosin Oke, also failed to pin down a medal, though, finished in the top eight. Women 400m hopeful, Patience Okon-George, and men 200m runner, Tega Odele, had bowed out of the competition in the semi-final stages. Okon-George failed to make the final, though improved her profile; a personal best of 50.76 seconds in the race won by Team UK’s Christine Ohurougu. Odele, who came into national limelight, when he won the 200m at the All Nigeria Championships in Warri, terminated his debut world championships appearance in the heats. He did 20.49 seconds.[/quote_box_center]

Then, came the Women’s 4X100m relay and Okagbare-Ighoteguonor was nowhere in sight. She had pulled out due to injury to concentrate on the 4x400m relay. In her place, the quartet of Regina George, Funke Oladoye, Tosin Adeloye and Patience Okon stepped in, but their best was not good enough, as they could not upset the USA and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

After failing in all other categories and sports, Nigerians were still hoping that last day’s Women’s 4x400m final could produce the much-anticipated medal, since Okagbare-Ighoteguonor was anchoring.

But it was no use, Nigeria finished in fifth position.

No medals, no glory.

Trading blames

Thereafter, the blame game and shifting responsibility took over the entire space. A good number of the athletes reacted angrily, almost violently.

Okagbare-Ighoteguonor lambasted those blaming her for doing badly at the Championships.

[quote_box_left]She said: “I am self motivated, confident and work hard, which I am extremely proud of, and I owe no one an explanation, win or lose. Not everyone, who open their mouth (sic) to talk or write with a pen in the name of journalism, have their sanity intact and they know themselves.”[/quote_box_left][quote_box_right]She continued:”As for the snakes blowing the trumpet and wishing I have tested positive on drugs, keep wishing on your own downfall because I am so more than what a foolish journalist, critics, haters and those who call me Warri instead of Nigeria when I don’t win is made of.”[/quote_box_right]

Sprinter Gloria Asunmu blamed poor preparation and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) for their dismal performance.

She said: “I am not disappointed we couldn’t scale through because this is what you get when you don’t prepare. The federation should always be prepared. Put people in charge who know what they are doing. Up till the (national) trials in Warri (Maurice) Green (the former world and Olympic 100, 200m and 4x100m champion) has been our coach. But when we got here, we found out he is not. The team bonding and chemistry we had under him was destroyed. Everyday what we have been having here is confusion. This is not how to prepare for world championships. This is embarrassing.”

As for triple jumper Oke, he was angry that some athletics were given much more financial rewards than him. “How can an athlete be receiving five digits every month and I get zero?”

UK-based Olusoji Fasuba wrote on his Facebook page that “the Nigerian system is to blame for the poor outing.”

“Nigerian athletics has finally become a place where dreams are reduced to African championship and those that they deem can’t make a future thrown aside. But those thrown aside are taken at a young age by other countries and turned to world class in a couple of years. But when a country like Nigeria thinks African championship is the ultimate of all ultimate because they refuse to give or have faith in their athletes at the world stage, then my people we are lost as a country. How can my nation Nigeria move forward when they limit the abilities of the male sprinters by keeping them because they feel that they wouldn’t get a medal?”

Way out

Fasuba is of the opinion that the Nigerian Federation needs to refocus their approach and encourage more home-based athletes. He said: “Keeping the home-based athletes from running the Worlds is not the way to encourage them or throwing money on old semi-retired athletes, who will not bring us medals; that is not the solution. The home-based athletes need money more than words of encouragement. I was once in the system and I know what it feels like. They have missed the allowances they will get from this World Championships by not competing and also the hope of getting managers for those that want to compete professionally is dim.”

He also lamented the recycling of athletes rather than building from the grassroots. “The problem is that the Nigerian system wants quick results and instead of addressing the problem from the bottom, they have decided to look for ready-made athletes, which has not helped. They like to say ‘we will prepare for the next big stage when it comes.’ But they have forgotten that it is an overused phrase. I have been hearing it since I became a professional athlete running for Nigeria and I still hear that same comment now that I am retired. The country needs to focus on the young ones but I guess they always want the easy way out.”

Gone are the days when Nigerian athletes were the cynosure of all eyes on the continent as the country practically dominated the sprints. In the 1980s and 1990s, the images of Nigerian athletes breasting the tapes with amazing ease have become a rarity leading to several questions: Why Nigeria has continued to be a one-athlete nation, where once Okagbare-Ighoteguonor is not doing well, Nigeria is not winning? Why we perform very well in athletics on the African continent and don’t ever rise above that level? What was different between when the Chidi Imohs, the Falilat Ogunkoyas, Fatima Yusufs and Olapade Adenekas made their impact felt at the global level and now?

Time has indeed changed. Countries like Jamaica, South Africa, Australia, UK, and USA still maintain high level of success in athletics and it makes one wonder the reasons behind Nigeria’s unimpressive scorecard at international championships.

London-based Joshua Umeifere, a researcher on sports and performance, speaking on a local radio, identifies corruption, lack of state-of-the-art training facilities, and lack of direct synergy in the area of training and manpower development between sports scientists and governmental agencies as factors responsible for Nigeria’s poor outing at world’s top meets.

“Sports development in Nigeria has been negatively affected as a result of corrupt practices in sports industry. Corruption in sporting industry does not only reflect mismanagement of funds, it also includes certain unwholesome practices which tend to undermine the fundamental principles of sports practice and engagement. Examples abound of corrupt practices evidenced in the Nigerian sports industry. They include receiving of bribe to influence outcome of decision; diversion and embezzlement of funds set out for sports development; recruitment of athletes, coaches or referees by officials based on reasons other than performance. It was evident that during the preparation for the Championships, there were concealed grumbling among athletes over poor training facilities, which made the AFN to overlook home-based athletes.”

Umeifere added:”Additionally, no formal synchronised mechanisms for promoting and transferring research results from laboratories of research institutions such as university to the end-users such as the ministry of sports or sport federations where such findings may be ultimately needed. Locally based research result in sports science are either treated with disdain or not utilised by sports administrators.”

A cursory look at how things are done elsewhere gave inkling about the state of decay and rot at the AFN.  Whereas Jamaica is noted for its consistent and organised annual track-and-field programme to be found anywhere in the world, the biennial  National Sport Festival in Nigeria is no longer what it used to be.

“Jamaica’s success in track-and-field athletics is not fortuitous, it is the result of a system of athletic instruction, management and administration that has been in place, tried and tested for almost a hundred years, and is now well established,” noted a researcher on the programme that gave the world Usain Bolt.”There is no entity or area of endeavour in Jamaica, whether in the public or private sector, that is as well organised and, applying international standards, has been as consistently successful as track and field athletics.

“Central to this ‘system of athletic instruction, management, and administration’ are Inter-Secondary Schools’ Sports Association (ISSA) and the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA).

“At the heart of ISSA’s track-and-field programme is the Boys’ and Girls’ Inter-Secondary Championships. Coupled with Champs is a raft of track-and-field meets from primary to the tertiary level, organised in every nook and cranny of Jamaica, on an annual basis, under the jurisdiction of the JAAA.”

Of course, that cannot be said of the AFN. The structure is so fraught that there is no synergy in discovering, developing and managing of athletes to attain stardom and win laurels for the country.

Lamenting over the state of athletics in Nigeria, AFN President, Solomon Ogba, was quoted as saying that the sport had been in a dying state prior to his ascendancy: “When I took over as AFN President in 2009, we went for the West African Regional Athletics Championship in Porto Novo, Benin Republic, and we had to struggle from the beginning till the end of the competition. We were even beaten in all our areas of strength, and from that moment, I knew we had a major problem at hand.

“The American school system produced so many athletes for this country at different times. The likes of Falilat Ogunkoya, Mary Onyali, Chidi Imoh, the Ezinwa Brothers, Fatimah Yusuf and Innocent Egbunike were some of the beneficiaries of the American school system.

“Today, we have so many of our athletes combining education and sports in some major American schools. It will surely pay off in due course. A majority of our young athletes, who won the Mauritius 2013 African Youth Athletics Championship, are our major hope at the moment.

“The likes of Divine Oduduru, Omezia Akerele, Ese Brume, Edidiong Ofonime, Aniekeme Alphonsus, Omotayo Abolaji, Blessing Adiakerehwa, ThankGod Igube, Victor Peka, Chukwudi Olisakwe, are doing well, and I feel that in a couple of years, we will regain our leading position in world athletics,” he reportedly said.

But what is the state of the athletes so discovered since 2009, or better still from the nucleus of the contingent that did so proudly in 2013? Rhetoric alone cannot take Nigeria out of the woods, rather consistency in development, training, managing of the athletes so discovered can take the country back to the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s. Anything short of that would spell more doom now and in the future.

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