Sports must return to the structures left by the colonialists
Though an environmental consultant in the United States, my experience as an athlete and grassroots sports coordinator has thought me that Nigeria’s problems have always centred on the management of its sports men and women.
The country will reclaim its position among the best sports nations in the world if it took sports back to the schools in a well-planned manner that will also ensure that budding talents are discovered and nurtured to greatness.
As a country, we have failed to find these talents and nurture them to the world level. That is why we have always had problems getting the right results at international sports contests, and this is disgraceful.
In Nigeria’s recent history, the country was rubbing shoulders with the United States, Jamaica and Britain, but it has fallen so low that it now struggles to qualify for major events, while these countries continue to dominate world sports.
Jamaica, especially, is enjoying prominence in athletics because the country brought back its past athletes to build on the structures put in place by the colonial masters.
Our contemporaries in Jamaica, guys like Don Quarry and Bert Cameron are the people behind the success that country has been enjoying in athletics.
Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt are some of their products. I went there to interview them on three different occasions on how they were able to make gains in sports. I spoke to their sports minister, chairman of the Jamaica athletics association and their coaches. I took notes. What they told me was that the sports development structure, which the British colonialists left behind in Nigeria, we did not maintain them; we allowed them to crumble and decay.
But they (the Jamaicans) continued on their own and even built upon the structure. Some of their top stars from that programme that went abroad even came back home and contributed their experiences into the development of the sport there.
When I came back to Nigeria, I wrote a proposal in 2002 and handed it to the then sports minister, Stephen Akiga. He invited me before the council of sports meeting and I did a presentation, and Akiga liked it because it was a grassroots oriented developmental programme. But before we could take the first step forward, he was removed from office and his predecessors were not keen to follow up.
My advice is for sports administrators to emulate the recent Cross River experience, where former Governor Liyel Imoke set up a sports programme domiciled in the schools, which ensured that all the budding athletes in the state were given the opportunity to develop their talents.
I was involved in the implementation of the programme in Cross River and the whole nation saw the success that we recorded in the short time that we ran it. For me, it was vindication that with a concise programme and the sports talents everywhere in this country, we can produce a pool of quality athletes who will meet world standards.
“For four years in a row, Cross River dominated the school sports festival and the national under-17 championships. At the 2012 national sports festival, we had athletes in every final that was contested, and some of them achieved podium performances.
• Former Nigeria’s Olympics Captain, Dr. Ijirigho spoke to Christian Okpara.