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Sportsthought with Segun Precious

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GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 31: Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria celebrates winning gold in the Women's 200m Final at Hampden Park during day eight of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on July 31, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

SHAME, AS NIGERIA’S ATHLETICS DWINDLES!

In the good old days, Nigeria would have been perching somewhere up there in the athletics medals table at the just concluded Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast, Australia.

But, as the curtains fell on the games on Sunday, Nigeria’s miserly athletics medals haul was a mere gold and silver. A relatively unknown and upcoming Oluwatobiloba Amusan, raised in the US, won the women’s 100m hurdles gold.

Out of the blues! With Sally Pearson, the homegirl and favourite out injured, the focus was on the Jamaicans. But the 20-year old surprised pundits to win. The other medal came from the short put event won by Chukwuebuka Enekwechi.

The special athletes and the wrestling team finally came to the rescue as Nigeria eventually got nine gold medals, nine silver and six bronze medals to end up in ninth position.

I remember with nostalgia the era of Innocent Egbunike, Chidi Imoh, the Ezenwa brothers, falilat Ogunkoya, Mary Onyali among others. Nigeria clearly dominated the sprints and middle distance races in Africa and Commonwealth Games and was a force to reckon with at the world stage.

Nigeria rubbed shoulders with such superpowers like US and Jamaica at the Olympics and world championships. Unfortunately, Nigeria is no longer a force in Africa. Countries like Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Botswana and South Africa have overtaken us.

South Africa now dominates men’s sprints while their women take charge of longer distance. The Kenyans, Ugandan, Ethiopians still dominate the long distances.

Why is it so? Simply because the administrators remain static while others think ahead. Our government officials and sports administrators only care about competitions and the accompanying estacodes. No one is thinking of developing talents. We keep recycling the athletes until they are worn out and then dump them.

Nigeria’s shining light for many years. Blessing Okagbare refused to defend her 100m and 200m titles she won last time because of the ill treatment she received in the hands of the officials. Then we completely lost out.

Our athletes were not well managed and we lost them to countries that valued them. Examples were Francis Obikwelu, who became European100m champion when he dumped Nigeria for Portugal after the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Same with Gloria Alozie, a fine hurdler lost to Spain. These athletes failed to do well for Nigeria as they suffer burnout before major events, having taking part in several meets to make money. It was a different ball game when they switched nationality.

Isn’t it ironic that Nigerians hold the record in men’s 100m in Africa, Asia and Europe? Only Olusoji Fasuba did his in Nigeria’s colours, though he too was frustrated out by greedy officials.

Most of the athletes did well in major events in spite of the country. Ask Chioma Ajunwa how she won the Olympic gold in 1996 long jump event? she was rejected by all four years earlier when she was unfortunately caught doping, except some few who believed and invested in her. That was Nigeria’s first and only single Olympic gold medal till date.

The National Sports Festival, a hitherto breeding ground for talents, has been politicized and left moribund. The last held in 2012 in Lagos and three more editions should have held.

The avenue for talent discovery like the yearly National Schools Sports Festival has also been left moribund since 2013. Even when it held the sporting authority refused to tap into the raw talents discovered during the festivals.

It is not lack of talents that is causing Nigeria to lag behind, but poor management and poor motivation which must stop. We also need to emulate Delta State in ensuring that we dot the landscape with facilities to encourage sports at the grassroots.

Follow me on twitter @precioussegun

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