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Friday, August 10, 2012

Why Team Nigeria Failed At London Olympics – Minister Of Sports

Let's hear
what the Minister of Sports and
Chairman, National Sports Commission,
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, has to say!
Full text of his speech yesterday
Thursday August 9 at the Nigeria House
in Stratford, London

About two weeks ago, we arrived
London for the 2012 Olympics with
a contingent of 51 sportsmen and
women competing in 8 sports
namely, athletics, weightlifting,
taekwondo, boxing, wrestling, table
tennis, canoeing and basketball. We
were competing in the last two for
the first time ever.

Even though we did not expect to
win the competition, we had
arrived hoping to make a decent
showing. We even had reasons to
believe we could surpass some of
our recent achievements at this
level of competing. Why not?
We had arrived London riding on the
wave of a short but intensive
preparation of our athletes in different
parts of the world where they did not
only have the benefits of high quality
facilities and technical support but also
had the opportunity to match up
against some of the best athletes from
other parts of the world, and on some
occasions, beating them.

Many commentators agreed that while
not ideal, we have had one of our best
preparations coming into this
competition in recent years. This,
coupled with a system that put athletes’
welfare at the heart of planning and an
atmosphere devoid of rancor and
acrimony, we believed would guarantee
us a couple of medals.

However, here we are, only a few days
to the end of the competition. Team
Nigeria is still not on the medals table. I
must say this is as disappointing for my
team and myself as it is for all Nigerians
everywhere. But even as painful as this
disappointment is, we must have the
courage to see it for what it is. This,
therefore, is a scientific diagnosis of our
condition; a clear testimony to how far
our sports have fallen behind.

We shall therefore not attempt any
excuses or indulge in any unproductive
blame game. Rather than see this as a
failure, we must see it as an opportunity
to rebuild. When other countries have
found themselves in this kind of
situation in the past, they have used the
galvanizing power of disappointment to
get down to work. At Atlanta 1996
Olympics, Team Great Britain won only
one gold medal. Returning home, the
right questions were asked, and the
necessary actions were taken. Four
years later in Sydney, they returned
with 11 gold out of 28 medals. In
Beijing four years ago, they returned
with 19 gold medals out of 47, placing
them in the fourth position. Today,
Team GB is sitting pretty in the third
position of the medals table surpassing
their own expectation. Today, they are
able to look back and say they have
moved from “zeroes to heroes.” This is
our chance. We can also do it. We must
see this crisis as the necessary
disequilibrium required for serious
actions and drastic change. We will not
allow this opportunity to pass.

Having being appointed Minister and
Chairman, National Sports Commission
only two months to the Olympics, I have
had to learn very quickly. And I have
not received a better lesson than in the
last two weeks of the London 2012
Olympics. I have learnt three key lessons
from this Olympics:

1. Olympics medal is about hard cash. It
is not a coincidence that the medals
table appears to reflect the level of
economic development of the countries.
But having the resources is one thing,
making the right strategic investment is
another. Team Great Britain largely owes
its dramatic success to what is
described as “unprecedented financial
investment” totaling up to more than
740 million GBP over 15 years. The
current annual spending on sports
stands at 100 million GBP. However, only
40% of this comes from the treasury,
while the remaining 60% is lottery fund.
Conversely, Australia finished fourth in
Sydney with 16 gold medals. In London,
Australia has fallen outside the top 10
with 6 gold medals. Australians have
blamed reduced funding for elite
athletes and a lack of facilities at the
grassroots levels.

2. Every medal is clearly projected and
carefully planned for both in financial
and technical terms over a sustained
period of time. Only years of intensive,
unrelenting training and preparation
can win medals. There is no short cut.
Medals are won by people who have
worked hardest not by those who have
prayed hard. We can only win medals
by building systems that are capable of
producing medalists and champions not
by selecting athletes that we hope can
win medals.

3. Olympics are a lifetime commitment.
The champion is in the child. Ye Shiwen,
the 16 year old Chinese girl that shocked
the swimming world by setting a new
world record in individual medley was
only 12 when her country hosted the
Olympics. Lizzie Armistead who won the
Team GB’s first medal in this Olympics
with Silver in cycling got her first bicycle
at the age of 4.
The immediate challenge for us is how
to translate these lessons into concrete
actions in the days ahead. The process
of rebuilding will start with the National
Sports Festival in Lagos later this year.
We shall use this event to flag-off our
preparation for the 2014
Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and
thereafter the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Some of our top priorities in the days
ahead are therefore as follows:
1. Identifying five sports that give us
competitive opportunities.
2. Restructuring the Federations of
these Sports to make them more
democratic, accountable and efficient.
3. Developing a Sports Calendar that will
ensure year-round sports activities both
within and outside the schools.
4. Strategic engagement with the
private sector with the aim to improve
funding for sports.
5. Strengthen our coaching and training
capabilities by developing strategic
partnership with national and
international bodies.

I thank all of you here for your support
and understanding. We will keep this
conversation going, in our belief that
you in the media are our major strategic
ally in the great task ahead. I want to
say thank you to all my athletes and
their coaches. They have all tried their
best. Even though they have not won
medals, many of them got to the quarter
finals, the semifinals and finals of their
various events and even setting new
national, Africa and Commonwealth
records in the process. But this is the
Olympics, where micro-seconds have
made the difference between gold
medals and no medals. You are all our
heroes and we can only hope to build
on your achievements.

I thank the Federal Government and the
people of Nigeria everywhere for their
wonderful support and understanding
during this difficult time. The task ahead
has been made grimly clear. Therefore,
lets get down to work.

By Bolaji Abdullahi
(Minister of Sports and Chairman,
National Sports Commission)

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