Today marks this year’s Olympic Day celebration and Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC, has put in place activities to commemorate the event. ASUELIMEN OSASUYI examines the history of the movement, the benefits to member countries, how Nigeria has fared since 1952 when it became a member and the level of Nigeria’s preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.
Olympic Day celebration was initiated in 1987 by the International Olympic Committee, IOC, to commemorate the founding of the Olympic Movement under the leadership of Frenchman, Baron Pierre De Coubertin on June 23, 1894.
It was an ideal platform to highlight the benefits of physical activity in general, particularly for young people which allows them to learn about Olympic values and to put them into practice in their everyday life.
Olympic Day celebrates sports and values bringing together hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Over the last two decades, the event has helped spread the Olympic ideas to every corner of the world. However, in Nigeria, the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC, had used the occasion to share the Olympic spirit with people in all the state of the federation.
Meanwhile, NOC President, Habu Gumel said his country would mark the Olympic Day celebration on July 2 in all the states that indicated interest to host the event, noting that the educational aspect of the event will hold today Thursday, June 23 and Friday June 24, in Lagos only. Besides, NOC was to hold the Olympic Day Celebration on Saturday, June 25, but had to shift it due to the nationwide environmental sanitation.
For the chairman of the Nigerian Sport for All Commission, Prince Henry Amike, in order to allow people of all age groups to participate in the celebration, the programme has been broken down in stages of 3km, 6km and 10km to accommodate everybody. ‘’The states that have indicated interest to organise the event are Bayelsa, Plateau, Benue, Kwara, Abia, Lagos, Imo, Adamawa, Edo, Delta, Katsina, Borno, Ogun, Rivers, FCT, Niger, Gombe, Kebbi, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Nasarawa and Taraba.’’
Sports is one sector where Nigeria can stand up to the rest of the world and the exploits of our sportsmen and women in local, continental and international competitions in spite of the myriads of problems bedeviling sports attest to our potentials in the field of sports.
This year’s Olympic Games billed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between July and August is another opportunity for Nigeria athletes to show case their worth as a dominant world power in sports, but the level of preparations and the wrangling in Ministry of Youth and Sports and the crisis that have rocked the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, is a development that if not urgently checked may pose serious threat to Team Nigeria wining a single medal at the Olympics.
Nigeria first participated in the Olympic Games in 1952 and has sent athletes to compete in every Summer Olympic Games since then, except for the boycotted 1976 Summer Olympics. The nation has never participated in the Winter Olympic Games.
Nigerian athletes have won a total of 23 medals, mostly in athletics and boxing. The national U23 football team won the gold medal in Atlanta 1996 and in the same games, Chioma Ajunwa, currently an officer with the Nigeria Police achieved the fame when she became the first Nigerian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in long jump.
In 2008, following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to strip the American 4 × 400 metre relay team of their medals after Antonio Pettigrew confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs, Nigeria was awarded the gold medal from the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
Nigeria also won a medal in the heavyweight division of taekwondo at the1992 Summer Olympics. As this was only a demonstration sport, Emmanuel Oghenejobo’s silver did not count as an official win.
While the older generation of Nigerian athletes in the mould of Innocent Egbunike relish their great achievements of the past, some of which has not been surpassed many years after, the current crop of athletes like Blessing Okagbare and Gloria Asunmu are confident of better performances as they countdown to the 2016 Rio Games.
While some athletes are of the view that Team Nigeria will do the country proud , table tennis star, Segun Toriola believes that preparations for 2016 Rio Olympics is the worst ever telling those who care to hear that they should not to expect any medal from Brazil.
Having been part of six Olympics build-up, Africa’s most decorated table tennis player, Segun Toriola has decried the preparation for the Rio Olympic Games describing it as the worst ever.
Toriola, 42, who will be making history in Brazil as the first African athlete to feature in seven Olympics said he has never seen this kind of preparation since he made his debut at the Olympics at Barcelona 1992 in Spain.
“I do not think we ever had it so bad like this because even the last Olympics in London, by this time we have started preparation and I do not think any athlete can do much in Brazil. It is disheartening that nobody is even telling us (athletes) what is the next thing we need to do. I think nobody should expect much from the athletes because most of our opponents are rounding up their preparation now while we have not even started. ”
On the idea of focusing on sports that are going to win medals, Toriola said, “I want our administrators to know that qualifying for the Olympics is not on a platter of gold as you have to compete to qualify to make it to the Olympics. But we have to know that it is the biggest stage for every athlete and all those that have been winning Olympics medal had quality preparation and I think our athletes should be given enough support. ”
Former minister of sports, Bolaji Abdullahi who was on the saddle when Nigeria failed to pick any medal at 2012 London Olympic told Nigerian Pilot Sports that Africa’s largest nation was poised to fail again with the level of preparation given so far to the Athletes.
While speaking at a sports colloquium put together by African Sports Management Association, ASMA, in Abuja where several sports delegates from other parts of Africa gathered, Bolaji who did not hide his feelings disclosed that an average Nigerian athlete is barely abandoned to feed with paltry N500 daily when invited to camp.
When asked if the mistakes made before 2012 Olympics have been possibly corrected, the erstwhile Sports Minister said; “Some of the issues that led to the country’s fantastic failure in Seoul were the same issue that led to fantastic failure in London and I am telling you that Rio will not be different.
“If we win anything in Rio, it will be a game by chance rather than design. Winning medal is not going to happen unless you work for it and the question is; are we working for it?
“I heard the President said Nigeria team are going to win five gold medals at Rio. Well, I do not think we are going to win any gold medal in Rio but I was confident that if we continued with the work that we have started and we did not abort it; I was confident that by Tokyo 2020, Nigeria will be on the medal table but not 2016.
“When country fails at tournament, there will be public outcry; then government and administrators will make panicky vows that never again we will allow this to happen; then summit will be called; task forces will be set up, report will be written and then we will wait for the next circle to repeat the process and at the end, nothing will happen.’’
However, the reality is that even the basic building blocks for sustainable excellent in sport do not exist in our country, coupled with the attitude of fire brigade approach to preparation for major international competitions such as the Olympic Games, the possibility of winning medal at the Rio Games would not be realised.
For Mary Onyeali, it takes eight years of intense preparations for any country to win a medal at the Olympics while calling on those in charge of sports in the country to immediately commence adequate preparation for 2020 games if the Nigeria must win medal, even as she said that Nigeria should forget the hope of winning a medal in Rio 2016 Games.