Smarting from the superlative opening of the London 2012 Olympics, and as I sit back to watch the Olympics heats and the qualifying rounds, on this glorious early summer morning with the lovely sunshine pouring through, my mind could not help but reflect and review last night's opening ceremony or celebrations. The opening ceremony, like others before it, was superbly put together. The sheer brilliance of the display put together before the world by the British Olympics organising committee, otherwise, known as the LOGOC, was a real show of splendid grandeur and it captures what Britain is about, tradition and style.
The entire opening ceremony was a colourful celebration, and a stupefaction show, superbly put together by London to capture the spirit of the Olympics, in a wholly British style or fashion. Great Britain used the opening performance to tell or capture its history, from ancient to modern, and captivated the entire world, and held it spell-bound.
However, during the nights celebrations, my mind kept racing past or beyond the razzmatazz of the ceremony. Especially when I saw the Nigerian contingent, I couldn't help but wonder how prepared we are for the games. Several questions kept playing in my mind, like, are the competitors the best that the country can offer? I also kept asking myself if we combed the length and breadth of the country and scouted for the best of the bests or the very best athletes in the country?
The Olympics is not the stage where an appearance is simply enough, but the stage where countries showcase or put forward their very best to the whole world and vie for medals. It is not only about simply participating, but participating for country and to win laurels. Has Nigeria filed out their best? And are these participants or the Nigerian contingent good enough to take on the best in the world? My mind quickly raced to the type of preparations that they have had. Did they start early enough? Or, as usual, was our preparation patchy or the usual fire-brigade type preparation, that is usually reactive, instead of proactive?
I ask these questions as I am conscious of the fact that Britain began her preparations even before the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China ended. Great Britain began preparations for the London 2012 Olympics even before the right to host it was confirmed. I know this, as my daughter, who was about 10 years old then, had been spotted as a potential Rowing athlete, and has been attending trials and training, since she was still in Primary School. If Nigeria began preparing only a few months ago, then we can see what we are up against. We are going up against countries that began preparing for the Olympics several years ago.
One cannot discountenance the benefits of good or adequate preparations. I could not help, also, but ask if we are competing in every conceivable Olympic sport there is. And if not, why not? After all, we have the population behind us. Besides, Nigeria is the giant of Africa and the most populous country in the continent. We also have the topography to aid or facilitate this. We have States like Lagos State, with all its waters, as well as the riverine areas of the Niger Delta, enmeshed in or surrounded by water.
With such natural resources, the country is endowed with, Nigeria should be producing world beaters in water sports, such as Swimming and Rowing. There are over 50 medals to be won between these two sports alone, by the male and female athletes. Those in the riverine areas, for example are surrounded by water and they live and breath water. They are mostly fishermen too, which means that they have experience of riding in boats and canoes and paddling or rowing away. That is what sports like Rowing are about. Just simply row, row and row to victory and medals.
The same goes for Swimming. An average or a typical Riverine person is adept at swimming and should be capable of winning us laurels if properly groomed. Why not? One just needs to take a look at the countries that participate in these sports, and one would find that they are putting their topography to good use. They are using their God's endowed natural resources, and turning these into laurel winning opportunities. The coastal part of Nigeria, quite like Australia and Great Britain, is a good grooming ground for potential water sports medals hopefuls.
In the Eastern states of Nigeria, dominated mainly by the Igbos and the Cross-River and Akwa Ibom States, we have well and strongly built Nigerians, who can excel in sports like Boxing, Judo, Wrestling and other physical sports or sports needing physical energy. Others include Short-put, Discus and Javelin, to mention a few. After a good meal of 'Akpu', I fail to see how my brothers from the East should not easily knock out or defeat their opponents and win their way to the Medal's table. I cannot see why we should not at least produce one gold Medallist each in any of these sports.
And moving up North, where we have the Hausas and the Fulanis that are not usually heavily built, but are usually tiny or skinny, and like feather or paper weights, the type of body structure that the East Africans use so well to run marathons and win medals for their countries. With the Hausas and the Fulanis, if properly groomed, Nigeria could produce potential Marathon world beaters or potential Olympic medallists in sports that require endurance, like Cycling. It is no surprise that there is a predominance of Bicycles in the North, than anywhere else in the country. We simply just need to harness and groom these potential medal hopefuls into athletes and world beaters. And why not?
I haven't left out the potentials of people from the West and Midwest (Edo). We have the Football, Tennis, Table tennis, Badminton and the short distance races that can be reserved for them, albeit, not exclusively. Gone are the days when Nigeria was a name to reckon with in athletics, especially in short distances, Table Tennis, Tennis court and the rest. Gone are the days of the Atanda Musa, Nduka Odizor, Innocent Egbunike, Chidi Imoh, Falilat Ogunkoya and Mary Onyiali, and a host of other ambassadors that used to make us proud to be Nigerians.
Unfortunately, there was no replacement or succession plan, as with most INSTITUTIONS in the country. The country tired and retired with them. Even though we have continued to have administrators who have been in charge of the respective Sports departments, and a full time Sports Minister. These administrators should be asked what has gone wrong with our sports? Why have we suddenly stopped producing world class athletes and sportsmen? Or have we simply been using round pegs or putting round pegs in square holes? In other words, have we been using people who do not have a clue or know how or where and when to scout for talents? We should borrow a leaf from Jamaica, a very tiny Island country, not even the size of Ikeja, that has produced world stars and continues to churn out new names.
I have left one group of potential medal hopefuls to last. After watching a female Chinese athlete win China the very first Olympic Gold medal of the London 2012 competition in, of all sports, a sport like shooting, I couldn't help but ask, in Shooting? Yes, in Shooting! Surprised? In fact, several thoughts flashed through my mind. This is one of the numerous sports of the Olympics, that Nigeria is not featuring any athlete. With all the Armed robbers, the Niger Delta Militants, the Boko Harams terrorists and the Policemen that accidentally discharge? Why can't we groom these happy go and gun-totting individuals to channel their sharpshooting skills into something positive and win medals for country at the Olympics? If only these people can redirect their energies into something positive for Nigeria, and like the Chinese athlete, win Nigeria a Gold medal in a sport like Shooting?
Jokes aside, the 'Olodes' or 'Maiguards' (or Night guards) were missing in sports like Archery. And what about the Horse riders of the Argungun Festival or the Yankari Games that ride horses with such dexterity during festivals? They were found wanting in sports like Equestrian, another Olympics Sports that requires the riding of horses.
The general point of this write-up, is for the country to review her preparations for the 2012 Olympics and future competitions. It is also aimed at seeing how the country can use her diversity and natural resources, including topography, and convert these to her advantage. And since sport is a great unifier, we can also use these sportsmen and women to unify Nigerians and the country.
The write-up can be seen, even beyond sport, and seen as how the different ethnic groups can or should co-exist in the country. Like division of Labour, let the different components of our great country concentrate on their respective areas and harness the abundant talents within. Let us try this model and see whether our performances in future Olympic games would not translate to increased medals haul. And on a wider scale or scope, let us also see how our diversity could help grow or develop the different parts of the country. In other words, let us harness our diversity and natural resources, and talents to develop the country.
While the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics was a showcase of brilliance and superlative performance, in the same vein, let us hope that our future performances, in every area, will improve and match up in brilliance too.