The 11th African Games has come and gone with all its anxieties, expectations and anticipations. Eventually, Team Nigeria emerged as the second placed team behind Egypt, the overall winners at end of the competition.
Team Nigeria, against all expectations was able to rake in 47 gold 55 and 42 bronze medals to place second after Egypt that had an unassailable lead — 85 gold, 41 silver and 40 bronze medals.
However, it was a tough fight as Team Nigeria came from behind to displace South Africa that had been in the second spot during earlier part of the Games.
The South Africans eventually ended their run in third place behind Nigeria, having won 41 gold, 41 silver and 40 bronze medals.
Team Nigeria was bolstered by the outstanding performance of powerlifting, wrestling and boxing — Powerlifting recorded the highest number of medals for the country.
The special sports athletes won 12 gold medals, eight from powerlifting and four in para-athletics; the Track and field won nine gold, wrestling also won nine gold medals, while Weightlifting had eight and boxing four.
Judo won five gold, while cycling, table tennis and taekwondo had a gold medal each.
Although, Nigeria placed second against all odds, but the number of gold difference between Team Nigeria and the top placed Egypt should be of concern to the National Sports Commission (NSC).
Egypt and South Africa were dominant in swimming and fencing events, which had the highest number of medals at the Games.
Of more concern is that fact that even in Nigeria’s area of strength – the track and field, wrestling, weightlifting and table tennis as there appears to have been an “invasion” of sorts by some other countries as they provided stiff challenge.
Cote d’ Ivoire won in both the men and women’s 100m dash; Egypt and the hosts, Congo shared six of the seven gold medals in table tennis, leaving only a gold medal for Nigeria in the table tennis event. Egypt won three gold and Congo three, while Nigeria was left with only the team event’s gold.
One could have thought that with the vast presence of rivers and streams across the country, could have provided an advantage to the country.
But, sadly most of Nigeria’s swimming pools have been in dilapidated state. The nations’ simmers are usually made to use swimming pools in some hotels and recreational centres, that are not of competition standards to prepare for such major Games.
The eventual results were poor outings by the swimmers in such major Games, as most of the pools are not of Olympics standard.
The Director-General of NSC, Alhassan Yakmut, while addressing journalists in Brazzaville agreed to the fact that Nigeria was schemed out of contention for top position was because of poor performance in the swimming and fencing events.
“I must agree with you that there is no way we can come first in this Games, because we are not doing well in swimming.
“Also as part of the politics of the Games, Egypt and South Africa featured in fencing, which has lots of medals and both countries shared the medals in those events,’’ Yakmut said.
He said the in the future, the country would strive to participate in events that have high medals yielding opportunities.
Another area the country must work on, is the area of poor preparation and state of facilities. It has now become our tradition for haphazard preparation ahead of major competitions.
The organisers of mutli-sports usually fix calendar of four yearly circle for Games, such that it is expected that all participating countries commence preparations for the next one, soon after one ends. But Nigeria usually waits for few months to the Games to start preparations.
“Most of our athletes that won laurels at the Games and at other international competitions, emerge, not as a result of adequate preparation or exposure to good facilities, but mainly due to their personal commitment,’’ Yakmut noted and raised concerns about the state of facilities in the country.
“I must commend our athletes for their determination and commitment to succeed; the results we are getting from the Games are not true reflections of our preparations and state of facilities.
“But, in spite of all the hurdles faced by our athletes while preparing for competitions, they still prove to the world that Nigeria is endowed with talents and skills in sports,’’ Yakmut said.
He, however, said the athletes would be called to camp for early preparation, ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after 21 days of rest from the African Games.
Another area where Nigeria must improve on, is the involvement in the international sports politics. Currently the country can boast of three Nigerians in international sports federations.
It is a known fact that decisions in sports are taken mainly in the board rooms. The North Africa countries dominate in the top positions in continental federations and are able to influence choices of technical officials to handle competitions.
Some Nigerian athletes and coaches in contact sports had complained of bad officiating that robbed them of medals in their events.
Waheed Enitan-Oshodi, President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF), noted that non involvement of the country in international sports politics must be addressed.
“It sad that we are not there in international sports politics. I think we have three to four Nigerians in top positions in the international sports federations.
“We are lucky in table tennis that we have two Nigerians in the top positions in Africa and ITTF, which has helped us to a great deal in the areas of technical support and developmental programmes.
“But, for a country like Nigeria not to dominate in the international sports politics in the continent, needs to be addressed by stakeholders,’’ Enitan-Oshodi insisted.
Yakmut said that as part of effort to address the issue, the NSC has a policy not to allow any federation president to be removed until the expiration of their tenures.
“The issue of non involvement of our people in international sports politics is of great concern to all us. In a situation that you hardly have federation presidents completing their tenures in office, will not put us in contention for positions in the continental and international sports federations.
“Because international sports politics is run like `a cult’, they don’t deal with you if they don’t trust you. The only way you can win their confidence is through long stay in office and regular attendance at congresses.
“But, how many of our federations presidents have the resources to attend congresses and seminars without running to government for support? Yakmut queried.
He said henceforth, the NSC would assist qualified Nigerians who aspire to contest positions in either continental or international bodies.
Another high point of the NSC toward re positioning the country’s sports was the constituting of a study group that went round venues of competition to assess the performances of athletes.
A member of the group, Kweku Tandoh, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Brazzaville, the group was set up to assess the athletes’ during competition and how they could further improve.
“The D-G, being a former athlete himself saw the need to have study group that consists of former athletes, sports science practitioners and administrators to assess our athletes and coaches during competitions.
“The members of the group went round all the venues Nigerians competed; we saw them and spoke with some of them.
“At the end of the Games, we will seat down and write a report, based on our findings and submit to the NSC toward repositioning of our sports,’’ the former Lagos State Director of Sports said.
He said the country could perform better in future Games. “we could have done much better, because all our athletes demonstrated determination to perform well, considering their level of preparedness for the event.
“Sports has gone beyond physical attributes of athletes; sports has now gone scientific.
“How far Nigeria has gone in approaching sports from science, depends on how knowledgeable our coaches can apply science in coaching,’’ Tandoh said.
“In our report all these will be put together and we expect the NSC to act in reflecting this in future preparations for Games,’’ Tandoh said.
He said the report if implemented would help to assist the country’s sports administrators in the direction to follow when preparing for major Games.
“Our belief is that the report will implemented by the NSC; if they do that, it will assist the country to have better preparation for the next Olympics,’’ Tandoh said.
The leadership of NSC must be commended for their commitment toward the welfare of the athletes, before, during and after the Games.
The decision to reward the head coach of powerfliting, Feyisetan Are with a course in Hungary was highly commendable one.
The D-G had announced that Are, as the brain behind the success of the country in powerfliting, would be sent on coaching course in Budapest. He would also be offered an employment contract with the NSC to serve as motivation.
The conduct of athletes and officials of Team Nigeria was also commendable throughout the Games.The Acting Ambassador of Nigeria to Congo, Aliyu Mahmud, attested to the good conduct of members of the Nigerian contingent to the Games.
“I must thank the good conduct of Nigerian contingent; they did not give us any reasons to worry. They all did very well. We did not record ugly incidences and they did not give any reason to worry about security.
“They made our work at the Embassy an easy one. We are proud of them all, and God crowned our efforts with success as the country placed second in the overall medals table at the end of the Games,’’ Mahmud said.
The task, will be higher at the Rio Games. Team Nigeria will compete alongside the best in world and only adequate preparations can guarantee the country a place at the global stage. We can only hope for the best. Only time will tell