By Onochie Anibeze reporting from London Truly, Bolaji Abdullahi was appointed sports minister and chairman of the National Sports Commission a few months to the Olympic Games and there was nothing much he could have done to change the impending doom then that has now manifested at the 2012 London Olympic Games that ended Sunday night with a closing ceremony that was a music JAM.
But the little the minister could do was consumed in his preference to plunge into the dirty football politics at the time than double effort to prepare the Nigerian team for the Olympics. Unfortunately, the ministry dragged him into it and because of the popularity of football in Nigeria he savoured the exposure and visibility the lingering but orchestrated crisis of Nigerian football attracted to him.
That was at the expense of tackling few issues with our Olympic preparation. There were issues with funding and technical problems with the teams that Nigeria would present. But the minister was busy with football that did not qualify for the Olympics. He meant well but he was misguided.
Some officials re-echoed the minister’s early romance with football as part of what affected Nigeria’s preparation but, in the main, blamed it on the now tradition of not developing sports but just engaging in competitions. Some athletes also bared their minds. For the avoidance of victimisation they preferred not to have their names on print.
Said one Nigerian official here: “The minister came into office and rather than face our preparation for the Olympics the ministry lured him into football politics and the money that would have been spent on our preparation was spent on trips to Zurich, the FIFA headquarters.
Time and energy were spent too on a problem they all later found out to be the creation of officials of the sports ministry who simply wanted their candidate in the NFF”
Another official put his this way: “The Federal Government is to blame. They are not yet ready to take sports seriously. They don’t fund sports well and when it comes to the games like the Olympics they expect results. Until they start funding sports well, the failure that we have experienced here will continue.”
One senior official who is a member of international body accused the federal government of aiding corruption by always releasing money late for preparations during which the money is misappropriated.
“When you make a budget for preparation and include about three training tours but money is released late you cannot embark on those tours again and the preparation is affected. This has been our story for a long time. It just didn’t start now. This makes the pockets of ministry officials fat but affects our preparation. N2.3 billion was released for the London Olympics and a huge part of it was surely not spent on the athletes or our participation here. It happened before and it is happening now, so it is not only about people who are in the ministry now. It is about our faulty system.”
An athlete is thinking of changing nationality. Said she: “I am not sure I will compete for Nigeria again. They will not help you and they expect so much from you. I know how other countries who are winning gold here helped their athletes to prepare. All the things they promised us in the last Olympics have not been fulfilled. We will continue to fail until we change and since change is not possible now it is better for me to change. Haven’t you seen that the Nigerians competing for other countries are doing well?.”
Another athlete said that it is only at the time of competition that Nigeria tries to engage the athletes, adding that “it is always too late to do something meaningful.”
A sports association technical official spoke from experience: “I know the age of my athlete. But don’t be surprised that by the next Olympics they will ask him to get ready for the Olympics because they are not developing any other person to take over from him. There’s no development programme, no money, no programme to develop talents. So, how can we do well in sports? Why do we have the sports ministry?.”