‘Depending solely on government to fund sports is ‘killing’ Nigerian athletes’

Athletics followers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and its environs will have enough to savour this weekend when the cream of Nigerian athletes converge for the first leg of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Golden League Meet billed for the National Stadium.

<strong>• U.S.-based ex-jumper, Olusola says Tokyo 2020 Olympics may be another disaster waiting to happen</strong>

Former Nigerian triple and long jumper, United States (U.S.)-based Dr. Benedict Olusola has advised Nigerian athletes to stop the habit of depending solely on government funding for major competitions like the Olympic Games.

“Waiting on the government to fund sports is a disaster waiting to happen, and I advise our top athletes back home in Nigeria to always look for possible solutions to help their career because that is the practice in other parts of the world,” he told The Guardian from his base in Texas, USA.

Olusola, who hails from Ondo State, was one of the most gifted high jumpers that rose from the Nigerian school sports system to the national level. He won various laurels for Ondo and Lagos State in the National Sports Festival at ‘Oluyole ’79 in Ibadan and Bendel ’81, and also represented the country at various international competitions. He has received various honours at the international scene, including the All American Masters Track and Field award in triple jump in 1996, and the World Medical Games award in 2004 in Germany.

The poor performance of Team Nigeria at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, where the country could only wrestle a bronze medal in football is giving Olusola a great concern.The ex-Nigerian jumper, who is the Managing Director of PA Desoto Company in Texas, told The Guardian that another disastrous outing might be awaiting Team Nigeria at Tokyo 2020 Olympics if nothing was done to change the orientation of the athletes.

“The same complaint every year,” Olusola, a cosmetic surgeon said. “Is it possible to keep doing the same thing every year and expect different result? The answer is no. As a former Nigerian national athlete, a NUGA product from the University of Lagos, I have the opportunity to live and compete in Jamaica. When I was doing my post-graduate studies over there, I represented my club, Montego Bay, competed both locally and internationally, and we did our weekly training.

“Everything was done out of our own individual efforts and contributions from well-meaning people who donated to the club. This is the attitude of people who want to succeed. I moved on and I competed in athletics at the Masters Level in the USA, for many years, doing high jumps, long jumps and triple jumps. I live in the United States and I am not aware of government funding any support. Almost all the American athletes have their sponsors and that should be the practice back home in Nigeria. The fact is that, to avoid another disastrous outing at Tokyo 2020 Olympics, all associations have to find individual sponsors. They should be able to convince them of some accountability.

“Preferably, they should find a sponsor for each athlete, so that money goes directly to the athlete, if the greedy officials don’t get in the way,” he said. Speaking further, Olusola, who grabbed a silver in the triple jump at the 1981 West African University Games in Cote d’Ivoire, urged members of the different sports federations in Nigeria to be up and doing to ensure success of their sport.

But he added: “Unfortunately, everybody is waiting for his or her share of the national cake. Waiting on the government to fund sports is a disaster waiting to happen. Again, the grassroots development programme also needs corporate sponsors because getting government involved is also a disaster waiting to happen.”

Olusola’s athletics career started at Demonstration Primary School, Surulere, Lagos. He went on to represent Eko Boys High School, Mushin, where his presence in the jumps always sent jitters down the spines of his opponents throughout his active days as an athlete. He was the last man standing for Eko Boys High School in the 1976 edition of the prestigious Graier Cup Championship for track and field, though his effort in the high jump was not enough to fetch the school a medal. One of his contemporaries then was Yusui Ali, who was a sprinter and long jumper.

Olusola competed against the likes of former Olympian, Paul Emordi, during the National Open Athletics Championship in Ilorin, Kwara State, in the build-up to Edinburgh ‘86 Commonwealth Games, where he distinguished himself by setting a national triple jump record, though he was beaten to the gold medal.

Olusola has also tasked government both at state and national levels to revive school sports competitions, just as he links the steady decline of school sports in country to lack of dedicated coaches, poor sports administration and lack of proper training of coaches.

He advised: “The private sector has to be given incentives to take over sports sponsorship as it is done in the United States. They can also partner the government. Proper education of the coaches in arrears of physiology of exercise and how it applies to fitness training is very important. There is need to organise more school competitions for talent discovery and subsequent training. Nigerian coaches should be on renewable contracts based on their performances and our sports facilities should be refurbished and maintained and used as training centers.

“The National Stadium in Lagos gave me the opportunity to train in my youth, so why should such a structure be neglected? Our problem has been lack of maintenance culture and there should be no need to build more facilities than we can maintain. I also want to say that education is gold. Every Nigerian child should be given education because nothing is better than schooling. Everybody asks me how can I be a doctor and participate in sports at such a high level.

This is possible if students prioritize their time, be productive with their time, read when they are supposed to and train when they are supposed to.’ Young children should learn to cut out a lot of unnecessary socializing and remain focused. My ability to compete at the national level even as a doctor was an inspiration for some of my peers in those days to get back to school,” Olusola stated.



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