Like London, like Rio: Olympic disaster looms for Team Nigeria ~ SlimXclusive | Your number 1 infotainment portal - Now news is at your fingertip

Monday, August 1, 2016

Like London, like Rio: Olympic disaster looms for Team Nigeria

Team Nigeria may be headed for another disastrous outing at the Rio Olympics, just like it happened at London 2012, after a poor preparation marred by controversies, reports ’TANA AIYEJINA With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games set to begin on August 5, Team Nigeria are again heading for another catastrophe at the global games, if preparation for the global competition is anything to go by. While countries have finalised their trainings for the Olympics, Nigeria’s preparations have been in tatters, since athletes began camping in May in Abuja and Lagos, and it remained so even until Friday, when the contingent began the trip to Rio in batches. The athletes’ trainings were marred by lack of payment of camp allowances, poor facilities, and poor feeding, with the Ministry of Youth and Sports complaining of non-release of funds by the Federal Government, to kick-start preparations for the games in Brazil.
Whereas the possibility of Nigerian athletes winning medals in Rio looks vague, some countries have already set a target for themselves after a well-coordinated preparation programme.  Team Great Britain for instance won 47 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and then amassed 65 as hosts of the last games in London in 2012 but they have again set a target of making Rio 2016 their most successful overseas Olympics by winning 48 medals.
Now, the targeted medals for Team GB is between 47 and 79, an increase from the 40 to 70 target that was set before London 2012, when Britain went on to win 65 medals – 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze.
South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee chief executive, Tubby Reddy, while recently emphasising that their athletes were ready for Rio, said started training for Brazil four years ago.
“Preparations for the athletes started immediately after London 2012. We launched the Operation Excellence programme to help prepare athletes to get to this stage‚” Reddy said.
Poor preparations
But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. In January, sports minister, Solomon Dalung, raised the alarm in Lagos that the country was planning to fail at the Olympics, and pledged to stem the tide.
“The last time I received briefing from the federations, I asked, ‘what is the level of our preparation?’ I was informed that we are 40 per cent prepared. And I said 40 per cent cannot give us victory, which means we are planning to fail,” Dalung told journalists at the National Stadium, Lagos.
But six months later and with just four days to the commencement of Rio 2016, the situation has even become more precarious.
Nigeria will be competing in 10 events in Rio namely athletics, football, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, table tennis, rowing, canoeing, swimming and basketball but preparations have been anything but satisfactory.
The men’s basketball, D’Tigers, and U-23 football teams arrived in Los Angeles and Atlanta respectively early in July without money as they prepared ahead of the Olympics.
The Atlanta 1996 gold winning football side and their 2008 counterparts, who won silver in Beijing, had their trainings ahead of both Olympics in the US.
The present U-23 team according to their coach, Samson Siasia, had to resort to begging to make ends meet, with reports saying they played friendly games wearing different jersey brands.
Siasia stated, “We actually begged people for money to take care of the Nigerian Olympic team. How are we going to win gold, if we keep begging for money to take care of our athletes?
“We are suffering in Atlanta; we have not received any money since we arrived this training camp. I have not been paid for five months. I know that by the time the Olympics will be over, our monies will not be paid.”
But the Rio-bound team were left to rue their fate after the sports minister distanced himself from their Olympic preparations.
“That our U-23 team is suffering in the United States is news to me because we do not know what they are there for. Also we do not know who actually took them to the United States of America. We are not part of the team’s trip to the USA; we were not told about the trip, so what they are facing on their trip is not our business,” Dalung stated.
The case of the basketball team, who qualified for Rio after winning the FIBA-Africa title for the first time ever last year, is not different, despite playing test games in the United States and China. Nigeria Basketball Federation spokesman, Patrick Omorodion, said they’ve passed through hellish times preparing under bizarre circumstances for the trip to Rio.
 “We are passing through hell, the NBBF board members had to borrow money here and there to keep the team going. We also got sponsorship; that’s how the team was able to travel to the US and play in the Stankovic Cup in China,” Omorodion said.
“The home-based players that were supposed to join the others in the US couldn’t because there was no money. The federation owes about N9m because of this.”
During a visit to the Abuja camp, unpaid and unhappy athletes were seen carrying sullen faces. “The camp is like a mourning ground. This is one of the worst preparations we’ve had so far ahead of a major international competition,” an athlete, who pleaded anonymity, said.
Another athlete  also complained about poor feeding.
He stated, “We feed three times a day but it’s the normal rice, beans, moi moi, tea and bread. Is that how we should prepare for a major championship like the Olympics? Are we not supposed to be on a diet?”
At the Lagos camp, athletes complained of poor lighting, leaking roofs and inadequate equipment at their training venue.
“We can’t see ourselves when we train and if rain falls, we are soaked. The equipment there is not what athletes going to the Olympics should train with,” he stated.
Unaccounted N2.9bn Olympics money
Dalung has been drawn in a long battle with ex-Director General of the defunct National Sports Commission, Alhassan Yalmut, over how the N2.9bn released by the FG for the participation of Team Nigeria at the 2015 All Africa Games, Youth Olympics and preparation for the 2016 Olympics was spent.
Dalung insists he is in the dark over how the money, which should have been used in prosecuting the training and tours of Team Nigeria ahead of the Rio Games, was spent by Yakmut.
But Yakmut said the minister actually met a balance of N654m from the released funds, adding that Dalung was properly briefed on how the money was spent.
Ticket scandal
With the accountability of the N2.9bn yet unresolved, the Presidency released another N500m two weeks ago to the sports ministry but a ticket scandal rocked Team Nigeria’s camp penultimate Saturday, when overseas-based athletes received an e-mail sent by the Secretary of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria, Bamiduro Olumide, asking if they could fund their trips to Rio themselves because of “challenges faced in buying tickets” by the sports ministry.
However, the public outcry that trailed the ministry’s embarrassing directive, observers believed, forced the sports minister to rescind the decision.
Dalung refuted the story saying, “The author of that e-mail lacks the authority to write on behalf of the ministry or even the Federal Government of Nigeria. At no time did we ask our athletes to seek for funds to travel knowing too well that athletes are very fragile people to manage.”
But our correspondent learnt that Olumide, a staff of the sports ministry, got the nod to send the mail to the athletes. Our findings showed that Olumide was also directed by the ministry to send another mail to the athletes to clarify the issue, which he did; but not before the athletes took to the social media to source for funds, which further put a dent on Nigeria’s trip to South America.
US-based Nwanneka Okwelogu, who will compete in the women’s discus event, opened a handle where she urged people to click and assist her with funds. She wrote on Twitter, “I really hate to ask, but I’ll appreciate anything! Click here to support. Help me to get to the Olympics.”
Other athletes like Regina George and Seye Ogunlewe, also pleaded for financial assistance, which irked AFN boss Solomon Ogba.
“What has happened is not enough for Regina George to start asking for money to train and buy ticket to Rio. Seye Ogunlewe was also calling on Zenith Bank and (Aliko) Dangote to give him ticket money that is not up to $2000. Seye’s father is a former minister; can’t he pay for his son? These are professional athletes who run races and get paid.
“The ticket issue is not a new thing. In the past, even under Amos Adamu, overseas-based athletes bought their tickets and got refunded. As a matter of fact, nobody should give money to the athletes begging for money,”Ogba stated.
But Regina George had received $3,750 out of the $4,000 she was looking for. The quarter-miler tweeted, “Because of you (donors), many of my teammates and I will be able to live the Olympic dream; because of you, the Nigerian track and field federation has found the money to issue my teammates and I tickets to the Olympics.”
But canoeing athlete Jonathan Akinyemi revealed on Twitter that he paid for his trip to Rio, though hopeful he would be refunded the money by the officials in Rio.
Delay in cash release deliberate?
The country has a long and infamous history of delaying funds for major global events, only to release them at the last minute, due to government bureaucracy.
Team Nigeria spent N2.3bn for the 2012 Olympics but the money came too late to have any effect on Nigeria’s medal chances. The team returned home without a single medal.
Some stakeholders however believe the late disbursement of funds is a deliberate ploy by corrupt government officials to ensure that there is no proper documentation of money spent at these sports events.
“We have so much incompetence in the system, which doesn’t make us plan ahead. The money that just came out should have been for the next Olympics in 2020, not this one; money for Rio should have been released between six to eight years ago, because that was when the preparations for Rio should have started.” sports journalist and lawyer, Godwin Dudu-Orumen, said.
“When you look at the corrupt practices of public office holders, you find out that they deliberately delay the release of funds, irrespective of the fact that we are not well prepared, so that when we don’t do well, the argument would now be on our poor results and not how the money was spent.”
History of poor preparations
The shoddy state of Team Nigeria’s preparations for Rio 2016 is not coming as a surprise to the country’s sports-lovers.
For instance, Nigeria’s home-based Eagles coached then by the late Stephen Keshi, had no kits to train with preparatory to the 2014 African Nations Championship in South Africa, after supplies meant for the players and officials were given out to top government officials, girlfriends and close aides of those in charge.
In July, Nigeria’s junior athletics team to Poland performed woefully without winning a medal amidst complaints by aggrieved athletes of lack of adequate preparations and poor welfare package by the authorities.
Even when Nigeria had done well internationally, it had mostly had to do with the personal preparation of the athletes and their determination to succeed against the odds.
Police officer Chioma Ajunwa came out from a four-year drug ban to emerge Nigeria’s first Olympic gold medalist at the 1996 games in Atlanta. But she passed through agonising times before told our achieving the feat.
“I was out of sports for four years but after just five months of training, I won an Olympic gold. It was an act of God. I still believe I could have won more Olympic gold medals if the nation had done the right thing,” the multi-talented ex-athlete said.
“We always believe and deceive ourselves that the athletes will give us the right results when we have not done the right thing by preparing well.”
The U-23 football team, which also won gold at Atlanta, also passed through some nightmarish experiences in the US just like the present team is doing.
A member of the Atlanta squad, Taribo West, said, “We were in camp for two months preparing for the Olympics; we prepared very hard and we won gold. But we passed through rough times in the US while preparing for the event. Sometimes, we were locked out of our hotel rooms and had to sleep in the lobby because the hotel bill had not been paid. Another time, there was no bus to take us to training.”
Nigeria first competed in the Olympics in 1952 and has since then participated in 15 editions, having boycotting the 1976 edition in Montreal, Canada. But the country has only been able to amass just 23 medals — three gold, eight silver and 12 bronze — largely due to inadequate preparations.
Politicians, civil servants outnumber athletes
While it is confirmed that 86 athletes will represent Nigeria in Rio, the number of officials to the games is yet to be made known. Most often, Nigeria’s officials’ delegation to international championships outnumber that of the athletes, with the officials pocketing a large chunk of the allowances allocated to them on such trips, leaving the sportsmen and women to rue their fate.
This year, it’s not been different. In the last couple of weeks, top and low cadre sports ministry workers at the National Stadium, Lagos, have virtually turned the cybercaf√© inside the arena to their home, in a desperate bid to apply online for visas to Brazil.
At the London games, Nigeria competed with just 51 athletes but Ahmed Gara-Gombe, a former Gombe State FA chairman, said the country wasted millions of Naira on people who shouldn’t have been there.
Gara-Gombe said, “At the London Olympics, where we had our worst outing, we had a lot of people who had no business there but they were there. I saw more than 250 people who went to London, some with their families.”
“The sports ministry then, with Bolaji Abdullahi as minister, spent more than $238,000 paying officials allowances, and spending almost N33m on hotels. These were not athletes; they were political associates and people who were in the executive and legislative arms of government.  None of them boarded economy class, they were all on business class and they were lodged in big hotels. I have records of their names and how much was spent. And we ended up going there for a jamboree.
“For the Rio Olympics, I have also seen the list and names of people they think should be part of the contingent, who have no business there too.”
The Nigeria Football Supporters Club has also been split over who should be in Brazil and who shouldn’t. The NFSC chairman, Vincent Okumagba, was recently impeached and suspended by members of the club, after he was accused of “padding” the list of supporters that should embark on the trip to Rio.
Our correspondent learnt that 100 members were earmarked for the trip but Okumagba was alleged to have increased the number to 286, with 90 per cent of those on the list not members of the supporters club.
It was further learnt that when the supporters’ list got to the sports ministry, an additional 96 names found their way into the list.
Failure looms in Rio
At the 2012 Olympics,Team Nigeria competed in eight sports namely athletics, weightlifting, taekwondo, boxing, wrestling, table tennis, canoeing and basketball but failed to win a single medal.
Bolaji Abdullahi, then sports minister, said events that have played out since four years ago point to another colossal failure for Team Nigeria in Brazil.
In a paper titled ‘From London to Rio: What has changed?’ delivered at the African Sport Management Association Seminar on June 16 in Abuja, Abdullahi stated, “London was not the first time we would be returning from the Olympics empty-handed. It happened in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics. The issues that led to our fantastic failure in Seoul were the same issues that led to our failure in London and almost definitely, Rio later this year.”
Former Green Eagles striker, Segun Odegbami, also wrote off the country’s medal chances, saying the country was once again going to complete the numbers in Rio.
The 1980 Africa Cup of Nations winner wrote in his column in Complete Sports, “Medals are not won by fire brigade last minute funding of preparations to the Olympics. Winning a medal at such games requires proper scripting, planning and disciplined execution of programmes for between six to eight years of dedicated hard work and plenty of good luck. Nigeria has not done anything since London 2012 to even justify winning a wooden medal, not to talk of bronze, silver or gold.”
Nigerians hopeful amidst poor preparations
Despite the controversy-tainted preparations, Nigerians are hopeful that the determination and fighting spirits of the athletes would see one or more of their own climb on the podium in Rio.
 “The good thing about this is that the basketball players are not bothered about what is happening or whether they are paid allowances or not.  They are happy to play in the Olympics wearing Nigeria’s colours,” Omorodion said.
Ogba is banking on New Jersey-born shot put thrower, Stephen Mozia, who has been in fine form this season, to stun the world in Rio.
“In Mozia, we have a medal prospect. He’s among the best three this year and with the form he is exhibiting, he will do well in Rio. There are others as well,” Ogba stated
Sports journalist, Shola Rogers said, “We are probably going to win a medal or two in Rio, but it’s not a reflection of how we prepared for the games. Unfortunately, it’s the officials who claim the glory when the athletes put up fine outings.”
Bola Olanipekun, a sports follower, who runs a sports viewing centre, is praying for a good outing for Nigeria, saying it will enhance his business prospects.
“I have been advertising and urging people to watch the Olympics in my centre. If Nigeria does well, I will make a lot of money during the period. So, I’m praying for the team to succeed.”
But Dudu-Orumen believes Team Nigeria is set for another monumental failure at the Olympics.

“Rio is going to be a disaster for Nigeria like the London Olympics. We had boxers training with bare knuckles and wrestlers who ate Agege bread and Agoyin beans. I don’t know how you are going to win medals with such athletes,” Dudu-Orumen said.



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