The Curse of the Olympic Gold…


The Olympics are here again, and as the opening ceremony approaches, with it comes the usual disruptive drama associated with Nigerian sports. No Association is spared; from Athletics to Football, Nigerian sports has rolled from one crisis to another. This has not always been the case, though we’ve had issues in the past, it’s never been on this scale. But 20 years ago in Atlanta, Nigerian sports history took another course: we won two Olympic gold medals, and in retrospect, that win has been a curse in more ways than one…

Those two gold medals signified the “invincibility” of our athletes. Nigeria has since been awarded more gold medals, but these two that were won with the whole world watching seemed to send the signal that we are the best sporting nation in the world. After Atlanta, Nigerian sports fans expect their athletes and teams to win everything, no matter how shoddy the preparation. This desperate, unfounded expectation meant that fans put pressure on the officials, who extend it to the (majorly neglected) athletes, cue chaotic backlash fuelled by frustration….

‘Superstar’ administrators emerged, and Nigerian sports has suffered since. Former Super Eagles captain, Segun Odegbami was the ‘messiah’ that helped Chioma Ajunwa on her way to her Olympic Long Jump gold medal win; the Football team that won Atlanta Gold was the continuation of the glorious 1994 Super Eagles that tore the world apart at USA 94 after the Tunisia ’94 Nations Cup win. Purely the handiwork of Clemens Westerhof. Yet, officials of the Athletics and Football Federations will, to this day, beat their chests. Their ‘arrogance’ increased after Atlanta as did their ‘messianic’ complex. Official these days “don’t profit from their offices, they’re only helping”. This means they don’t want to be accountable, and they won’t vacate the office, no matter how chaotic things become because of their ineptitude.

Politics smashed its way into our sports, big time. Nigerians have always celebrated sporting wins, but the global victories of ’96 produced such an out-pouring of patriotic fervour, that politicians saw the advantage: they saw a tool. As long as there is a sporting event going on, Nigerians hardly worry about politics. This thrust sports into the center stage: Governors, and some Presidents, now want to have a stake in sports. And because their motive is flawed, the process was doomed as it led to….

The death of grass root development. Politicians and Sports Administrators, focused on Nigerian teams appearing at major tournaments (for different reasons) took the “foreign based” route. All the popular sports in Nigeria: Athletics, Football, Basketball, all have a large contingent of foreign based personnel. All in the quest to ensure ‘success’. The old local supply line of talent into national teams; Local Age Grade competitions, the Local Leagues, all have been abandoned or given only partial attention. All because we won Gold medals in Atlanta.

The drama around the Nigeria Olympic team is not fully documented, yet. The athletes, and a few officials, for fear of reprisals, are quiet at the moment. When the Games are over, and all allowances have been paid we will hear the full story…

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