Following the recent victory of the D’Tigress in Afrobasket and Home-based Super Eagles qualification for the 2018 CHAN, many may be tempted to say that year 2017 is not a bad one for sports in Nigeria. However, for athletics it has been a year of painful misses as the country on several occasions failed to show up for some very important international competitions.
Most Nigerians are therefore worried that since the inception of the present administration, the ministry of sports has failed in its responsibility of ensuring that Nigerian athletes attend international competitions.
It is indeed worrisome that most of the events that the country’s athletes failed to attend are developmental. If they had attended, such competitions would have been the most appropriate ground to discover and nurture future generation of stars to replace the aging ones.
Nigeria’s absence at international competitions within the period under review started with the African U-20 Athletics Championships held in Tlemcen, Algeria in June. Nigeria had missed the 2007 edition held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
As if that was not bad enough, the following month in July, the World Youth U-18 Championships took place in Kenya and Nigeria was conspicuously missing at the global event for the second consecutive time.
It was a very important tournament for young athletes as it affords them the chance to rub shoulders with the best across the world and expose them for future challenges to come.
Again, it was also a tale of woes for youth athletes as they were not able to attend the 2017 Commonwealth Youth games staged in Nassau, Bahamas from July 15-23. In the midst of public outcry, the ministry of sports said Team Nigeria couldn’t attend the event because they were denied entry visas by the British and American embassies.
However, two athletes, Sherifat Adetunji and Jacinta Okorie who were not limited by visa issues flew Nigeria’s flag at the international event.
In the same month, there was another heart break for the ever impressive and dependable Paralympics athletes who have always made the country proud even when their able bodied counterparts fail. For inexplicable reasons, they missed the World Para Athletics Championships in London.
Paralympic shot put champion Lauritta Onye in a chat after the unfortunate development blamed the Nigerian government for lack of funding after missing the chance to defend her title which she won in at the Paralympics Games a year earlier.
Apart from athletics, there was also another embarrassing moment for Nigerian sports in the month of August as three of Nigeria’s six wrestlers for the 2017 World Wrestling Championships were still stranded in Lagos after the competition had officially opened in Paris.
It took the intervention of some highly placed good Samaritans to convey the remaining athletes to France where they were allowed to compete on sympathy grounds despite coming late.
This has been the unfortunate tale of Nigerian athletes. For many of them especially the budding ones who had always dreamed of representing their fatherland, it has been a season of dashed hopes.
Beyond the athletes, the country too has missed several opportunities for the upcoming athletes to test their abilities against their contemporaries around the world.
Speaking to SHOT! on the development was sports enthusiast and a contributor to Nigerian Television Authority’s sports parliament show Sani Dahiru who said Nigeria will never get it right in sports, if things continue this way.
The Kaduna born analyst noted that countries which know the importance of sports will never treat it the way Nigeria is still treating it, adding that it’s a shame the country went on to miss all those important aforementioned tournaments which would’ve added value to our athletes and the country.
“Do you know that Great Britain last year alone spent over £3bn on their sports programmes, that’s nearly N1.5 trillion. And you can see where it has taken them to considering their achievements at the Rio Olympics and the 2017 Athletics Championship.” He began.
“To be honest, it all boils down to the type of persons we put in charge of our sporting fortunes, when you take a baker to a hospital to perform surgery, you’ll never get a positive result. I hope we will learn from all these misses in 2017 and do better next time around.” He concluded.
Abuja based athletics coach Yunusa Jamilu said it’s wrong that despite all these misses no one is being held accountable and things are still going on as if nothing happened.
“In saner climes when things like this happen, heads usually roll, people indicted for allowing our teams to miss these important tournaments are brought to book but over here things are not done that way.” He said.
Jamilu went on to add that it’s unfortunate that the country still doesn’t have a blueprint for sports to operate within, believing that continuing this way will only keep taking us backwards.
“It’s very simple, let’s look at what other successful countries are doing and copy, why will Nigeria keep missing tournaments when we spend money on things that are not important.” he concluded.
Consequently each time the country’s athletes miss any major international event, accusing fingers are naturally pointed in the direction of the ministry of sports.
However, the minister of sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung during a visit to Daily Trust office in Abuja exonerated himself and also explained the challenges being faced by his ministry.
He said “The entire budget of the ministry of youth and sports is about N7.7b and only football has presented a proposal of about 6.8billion for 2017, for the World Cup qualifiers and participation.
“So football alone will gulp the budget of sports. And N7.7b is grossly inadequate. Last year the appropriation act provided N9m for the National Youth Games.
“We had to look out of the box to mobilise sponsors to borrow money for the games. Till today we have not finished paying the money that we borrowed for the games.
“So I think the National Sports Festival will remain mere rhetoric, if there is no budgetary appropriation for it. Yes, we have a state that is hosting but what of the preparation of the ministry towards the game?. Where will the funds come from?
“So unless and until we have secured some intervention, we would not be talking too much about the National Sports Festival.”
The above aptly explained the predicament of the sports ministry and by extension the budding athletes for as long as the ministry continues to depend on government for funding, athletes would keep missing out on global events like the ones highlighted above.