That we may be among serious contenders

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By Patrick Omorondion

This column took a month’s break because of the recently concluded Rio Olympic Games which gave Nigerians more heartaches than cheers. I would not want to bore anyone with the sad tales that was Team Nigeria’s participation nor why we failed as a nation to make any impact there.

Dalung
Dalung

I will also not encourage anyone, not even the sports minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung who contributed to the poor outing to waste scarce resources by setting up any committee to probe Team Nigeria’s failure because, except we want to deceive ourselves, we all know why.

I heard the other day, the minister speaking from Rio that preparation for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan has started and I just felt he should not be taken seriously as it was akin to statements made by drunks at beer parlours or by meat sellers at major markets across the country. If he was serious about it, he should know that we are already late for the Tokyo Games as countries we are going to face already know from Rio those who will represent them in Tokyo and will start work after few weeks rest.

We say most of the time in this country that it takes four years to prepare for an Olympic Games but the truth is that it takes more than that. I want to remind all that you first of all discover the talent before you then nurture such a talent to stardom and that does not happen in fours years alone. Take for example, our own Daniel Igali.

He represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada in 1994 and the Canadians saw the potential in him. He was snatched from there and they started preparing him for the Olympics, not for the 1996 Games in Atlanta but the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, a long six years. I don’t want to go into what went into his training in those six years but he was well prepared and the result was a gold medal, Canada’s first ever in wrestling before Igali got there.

Leaving Igali and Canada, let me talk about the United Kingdom or Great Britain, the name they bear at the quadrennial Games. They have what is known as the UK Sport, not the ministry of sports like we have year.

This UK Sport works with the fund provided by the National Lottery created with the aim of generating the money with which the UK Sport maximises the performance of their athletes in areas of their strength.

Investment decisions by UK Sport are made on a four year basis to cover the four year circle of the Olympics but their main focus is actually an eight year development model. The funds realised from the National Lottery are not managed by government officials as is the case in Nigeria but by private individuals who work with such partners as the English Institute of Sport and some other Institutes of Sport in the countries that make up the United Kingdom, including the British Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

The same UK Sport then run strategic support services like development of world class coaches and running of talent identification campaigns to fish out future medallists from the various sports. The support programme is in six categories namely: 1.World Class Coaches, 2.Sports science and medicine, 3.Warm weather training and acclimatisation, 4. International competition schedules, 5. Athletes development programmes and 6. Access to high performance training facilities. Of all these, Team Nigeria athletes could not be said to have engaged seriously in any except number three because of the peculiarity of our environment.

The athletes thus identified are categorized and support fund allocated to them. Those who are podium athletes are allocated funds worth around £36,000 – £60,000 per athlete per annum while those potential podium athletes are given between £23,000 – £40,000 per athlete per annum, all again depending on the sport.

It doesn’t end there. These athletes are not left on their own like is the norm here until it is just close to the time of competition. Therefore, they have an award called Athlete Performance Awards, APA which contributes to the athlete’s ordinary living costs and their personal sporting costs. According to the APA, the fund “received is determined by a number of criteria, not least of which is the level of performance an athlete has achieved and is capable of producing in the future. While there are variances depending on the sport, three performance categories apply for ‘Podium’ level athletes:

Category A – Medallists at Olympic Games or Senior World Championships or gold medallists at Paralympic Games or Senior World Championships

Category B – a minimum of a top 8 finish at Olympic Games or Senior World Championships or medallists at Paralympic Games or Senior World Championships

Category C – Likely to be major championship performers and those who demonstrate the capacity to achieve a medal result at World or Olympic level within four years but flexibility given to individual sports to set their own criteria.

  1. To achieve this, UK Sport invests around 70 per cent of its income through two channels: 1.Central funding for sporting National Governing Bodies (NGBs), enabling them to operate a World Class Programme (WCP) and ensuring athletes have access to outstanding support personnel and training environments to ensure they are among the best prepared in the world.

2.Direct to athlete funding in the shape of an Athlete Performance Award (APA). This award, which is solely funded by National Lottery income, is paid directly to the athletes and contributes to their living and sporting costs. This method has helped Great Britain move progressively on the Olympics medals table from 10th at the Athens Olympics in 2004 with 30 medals(9G 9S 12B) to 4th at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 with 47 medals (19G 13S 15B), 3rd on its own ground in London in 2012 with 65 medals (29G 17S 19B) and then 2nd behind the USA in Rio this year with 67 medals (27G 23S 17B).

This is the only way we must go if we must rise above our mediocre performance each Olympic year and be counted among the serious contending countries. We must move away from praying for medals to working towards winning medals.

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