Nigeria’s 11 Wasted Years Of Sports Development Programme
Until the transfer window finally closes, I will sheath my pen and merely continue to observe the exciting drama of the matches in several leagues across Europe. This season has been a treat of surprises.
So, Karim Benzema will not report at the Emirate Stadium again. There evaporates Arsenal’s Joker and diminishes their chances. Wenger will go this year if he fails to win the league.
Paul Pogba may finally end up in Chelsea. Mourinho wants to win by all means again this season and sustain his incredible record.
Manchester United are still shopping fruitlessly for a whole number of possible new signings. Van Gaal is so jittery even as Man United appear to be finding some rhythm.
I want to take a breather from the European leagues till the dust of buying and selling of players settles down for a clearer picture of the teams to emerge, as the season enters into second gear.
Nigeria In The IAAF World Championship
I am watching and thoroughly enjoying the events at the on-going IAAF World Athletics Championship in Beijing, China. They remind me of my days of association with Nigerian athletes, when I managed two of them to win gold and silver medals at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA.
So, I am following the performances of African athletes with special attention on the Nigerians.
13 years ago, I was supposed to have planted a seed in Nigeria’s athletics that would have fully germinated and be ready for harvesting during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
The practice in sport is that it takes between 10 and 12 years, from when a young talented athlete is discovered to when he could possibly be standing on the podium receiving an Olympic or World Championship medal.
The period in between would be the years of nurturing, of uncommon dedication and discipline, of high-level training and competitions, of sweat, tears and blood. Only the very best ever survive the rigours and emerge a possible champion at the end. It is a minimum 10-year grueling odyssey.
Even then, there is no guarantee of ultimate success. A whole array of things could turn up to upturn the applecart of plans. That’s how difficult becoming a champion is. There are no alternative paths to success, only hard work or short cuts (through doping) that come with unpalatable consequences.
In 2002, I recall trying to set a new sail for Nigerian sports through a simple but well-articulated and well-designed action plan put together by the Australian Institute of Sports. It was to restore Nigeria as a global sports superpower in a few selected sports by the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
I was then the Chairman of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s National Institute for Sports.
As a footballer in the national team in the mid-1970s I knew the history, the role and the impact of the sports institute in the development of Nigerian athletes. The results were phenomenal, propelled by proper programmes within the institute that boasted first class science laboratories, excellent training facilities, world-class coaches in various sports, and a curriculum modeled after the German Institute of Sports.
The results of the institute’s work were best manifested in the line-ups at the sprints finals (male and female) of every Olympics and world championships in those years. Every single one of the final lines up of eight athletes representing the best around the world had at least one Nigerian.
Nigeria produced some of the world’s best sprinters even though none of them actually won a gold medal. But it was going to be a matter of time and a little bit of luck for Nigeria to become what Jamaica has become in the past two decades.
The explosive events were Nigeria’s forte.
Check out the long list – Chidi Imo, Innocent Egbunike, the Ezinwa twin brothers, Olapade Adenekan, Francis Obikwelu, Fatima Yusuf, Charity Opara, Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya, and so on.
Then the institute became embroiled in political shenanigans, lost most of it’s pioneer visionary administrators, lost its direction and started a decline that destroyed its fabric and foundation throughout the 1990s.
Of course, I knew what the institute looked like in the mid 1970s when the national football team was camped and trained there. So, my determination when I became its chairman was to put the institute back on its original track whilst trying to renovate a few of its facilities using zero resources.
I contacted the Australian Institute of sports. Working with the then President of the Nigeria Athletics Federation, a hardworking visionary, Dan Ngerem, and the telecoms giant, MTN that bankrolled the programme, we drew the Australian Institute into our new vision and got them to work for one whole year designing a 10-year plan for Nigeria to revive the National Institute for Sports and resume its production of Nigerian athletes and coaches.
The job was done. The document was presented to the government and the Federal Executive Council approved it for implementation. It was going to be a new dawn for sports development and for the national sports institute.
The project was to take off after the All Africa Games (COJA 2003) hosted by Nigeria in 2003, with the excellent facilities in Abuja bequeathed to Nigerian sports after the games to serve as the platform.
On paper, at least, the adopted 10-year Elite Athletes Development plan designed by the Australian Institute of Sports for Nigeria took off in 2004, one year after I had left the institute.
If incubation period was to be 10 years it makes sense that the products of that experiment should become Nigeria’s stars in 2014 and beyond.
You can now understand why I am taking particular interest in the Nigerian athletes at the ongoing IAAF World Championships in Beijing. I have been counting the years and expecting. It has been 11 years since the project started.