Team Nigeria’s performance at the recent 22nd Commonwealth Games tagged ‘Birmingham 2022’ is without doubt, the best the country’s assembled athletes have put up in the competition; going by the number of gold medals won, which surpasses their achievement in any previous major championship. Naturally, it was a thing of pride for all Nigerians that the country’s athletes could indeed compete favourably among the world’s finest. The celebration galore consequently embarked upon was not only justified, it should serve to remind all those connected with sports that the country’s huge population of 200 million plus can actually be better managed for huge national benefits.
At the end of the two-week competition, the country won 12 gold, nine silver and 14 bronze medals totalling 35 medals. This is a commendable feat by the country’s contingent, unlike the previous best performance at the Commonwealth Games in 1994, where Team Nigeria amassed a total of 37 medals with 11 gold medals. At this year’s event, the country placed seventh in the overall medals table, finishing first above the rest of Africa’s contingent at the competition.
The bulk of the medals won by the country at this year’s edition were from the female athletes, who won nine gold medals, 22 medals over all, and seems to tell a story of women comparative capabilities with men. The men had dominated proceedings at the 1994 edition, where they secured 11 gold medals at the global tournament, and winning a total of 31 medals over all while the women won just six medals.
Of unique interest was the fact that the rare performance of Team Nigeria came in spite of the plethora of political, economic and social crises experienced back home. The Minister of Youths and Sports, Sunday Dare, also deserves commendation for the Adopt-an-Athletes vision, even though some had argued that the policy was never his idea. He will do well to impress upon the authorities the need for sustainability of the outing.
What remained visible was that the policy played a pivotal role in ensuring that Team Nigeria achieved its greatest performance at the Commonwealth Games till date and in any other international competitions. This is aside the incredible personal efforts of some of the athletes, along with the tenacity of some sports federations.
The minister, who had explained his vision in 2019, noted that the bane of athletes’ poor performance at major competitions was basically due to inadequate preparations. He explained that the policy would enable athletes with potentials to be adopted and supported financially to help them reach their set goal in their chosen sports. The policy encourages individuals and corporate bodies to commit $20,000 for a foreign-based athletes and $10,000 for a home-based athlete to prepare well ahead for international championships.
He said that the ministry was forging a working partnership with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) to ensure that individuals and corporate organisations get value for whatever they put in sports, adding that the collaboration with the NESG would eventually birth the Nigerian Sports Industry Policy (NSIP). The idea behind the policy was to boost the support that the ministry and the country give its athletes.
By ensuring that there were no complaints of unpaid bonuses or allowances of the athletes, the sports ministry had certainly paved way for Team Nigeria’s success at Birmingham 2022. Complaints over such allowances had in the past distracted the athletes and marred Nigeria’s chances in global competitions, causing poor results.
The sports ministry needs to consolidate on its good showing at the Commonwealth in the coming major international competitions; this the country can achieve through planning ahead; as against the ‘fire brigade’ approach, a common feature for Nigerian athletes preparing for competitions. Birmingham 2022 could have been even better for Nigeria because some athletes were caught by, and lamented inadequate preparations, which delimited their set goal in the games.
A weightlifter who won a bronze medal in her weight category against all expectation at Birmingham 2022, still expressed dissatisfaction, believing that she could have won silver or gold had she more time for preparation, and considering her potential. The sports ministry surely needs to work harder on this area. It is not rocket science that good, adequate preparation will result in sterling performances by the athletes. Nothing can be more frustrating for athletes than to post a result below their potential just because their opponents have an upper hand in training and preparation.
The case of Nigerian sprinter Francis Obikwelu is instructive in this regard. Obikwelu underperformed for Nigeria and eventually defected to Portugal after several unheeded complaints of inadequate training. His decision paid off for him as he eventually won a silver medal for his adopted country in the 200-metre sprint event at the 2004 Olympics. Former Nigerian hurdler, Gloria Alozie and some others have taken the same course for the same reasons. It is high time these lapses are not condoned in Nigeria, to prevent the country from losing more potential sports stars to other countries with all the accompanying glory.
However, worthy of mention at the Birmingham 2022, was the topnotch state-of-art-facilities on display at NEC Halls, which the country’s sports’ administrators and government officials were seen beholding. It is high time they too started thinking of how they can influence the government to replicate such facilities in the country, and to maintain those presently available. With her vast natural resources, Nigeria need not struggle to maximise her potential in sports facilities.
Also, Nigeria should be inspired by the beautiful Alexander Stadium, one of the smallest in the city among the several stadia, which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies and used only for the track and field events during the games. Athletes are naturally encouraged to achieve their best when their countries can boast of structures of such magnitude. The government should start thinking of building such structures for athletes to develop their God-given talents. This applies also to other sports like football. Nigeria should not allow the momentum of her athletes’ performance in Birmingham to fizzle away. Rather, everything should be done to take the feat to a higher level in both the Commonwealth and other international competitions.