Team Nigeria’s time in the Japanese capital city of Tokyo at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games has been riddled with numerous issues of abject disgrace, ranging from unprecedented athletes’ qualifications to squabbles over sponsor-awarded benefits and doping issues, bringing forth questions of how, why, and where things have gone wrong for the Nigerian contingent to the Olympic Games from concerned stakeholders and genuine sports-loving Nigerians.
The problem that led Team Nigeria to face the ignominy it has faced in Tokyo today was hugely caused by a series of power tussles, first, between factions of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria and then between the Sports Ministry and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria. Things came to a head in April 2021 when the women’s 4X400m team was supposed to attend a world qualifying event for the Olympics in Poland as was arranged by the Athletics Federation, only for the Sports Ministry under the leadership of the Honourable Minister Sunday Dare to direct the athletes to attend a training camp in the United States of America instead, forcing the organisers of the qualifying event to rule that Nigeria could not compete due to the in-fighting between the Sports Ministry and AFN. The women’s 4X400m team only qualified for the event at the Olympics five days to the commencement of the games at a meet held at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos; two of the four runners from that day, Favour Ofili and Knowledge Omovoh, are among the disqualified athletes, and will not be eligible to participate in the event at the Olympics.
Apart from the feud between the leadership of the AFN and the Sports ministry, there were also claims from a separate faction that then-AFN president Ibrahim Gusau’s leadership was illegitimate, causing the creation of a separate group within the same organisation. This lack of unity further fuelled the instability of the body with the Olympic Games, a major competition, around the corner. The leadership tussle was eventually resolved after an election was held, and Tonobok Okowa emerged as the new and substantial president. In an interview with Arise TV, former AFN Technical Director and Vice President Sunday Adeleye opened up as he claimed that directives from the Ibrahim Gusau-led AFN regarding the athletes were ignored by the Sports Ministry, as the minister claimed that they were not legitimate and only seeking relevance. One of those directives was reportedly regarding the out-of-competition testing (OCT) of the athletes who qualified for the Olympics, one of the most basic requirements for participation at the Games, which unfortunately has led us to where we are today. Another alarm raised by Adeleye was the ease by which the honourable minister reneged on a contract between the AFN and sportswear giants Puma to the tune of $2.67 million for kits to be used by Team Nigeria at the Olympics. Instead, the Nigerian contingent is clad in kits made by Nigerian-owned sportswear brand AFA Sports, angering the Puma leadership and leading to threats of legal action being taken concerning the contract previously agreed.
On the part of the athletes, there has been a noticeable avoidance of meddling into the administrative affairs as they have largely avoided talking about what they have seen on the mainstream media. Only experienced sprinter Blessing Okagbare made known her feelings about the state of affairs after the unprecedented disqualification of 10 Nigerian athletes at the competition. Team Nigeria captain Aruna Quadri clarified that a reasonable deliberation had been reached with the Sports Ministry, and everything was under control. However, it was a different story on the veteran table tennis star’s Instagram story as he appeared to question the decisions of the leadership of the Sports Ministry over his event at the Olympics, stating that the coach who had led him to the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics had been let go, and replaced with another coach with whom he had not previously worked. Quadri implied that he would be dropped from the national team but urged his followers to question the sports leadership on their reason for changing his coach. Fellow table tennis star Olajide Omotayo implied that they had been sabotaged on his Instagram story, asserting that there was no respect for the athletes, and they were not even made a priority for the administrators in charge of their affairs.
While a lot has unfolded in the past 72 hours on the Nigerian sporting scene, it is pertinent to note that all that has happened are events that have been in the works for years. The unstable nature of Sports Federations and refusal to appoint seasoned sports personnel into positions of authority on these Federations have been a constant theme in Nigeria, with Okagbare the latest to complain about it. It is, however, shameful that a country as blessed in terms of sports as Nigeria has to endure the ignominy of disqualification and poor performances due to poor administration and preparation of her athletes. There is an urgent need to return to the drawing board after this underwhelming Olympic Games and abandon all sentiments in deciding on the best way forward for all those involved.