Mr Sunday Dare, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, has argued that despite what many perceived as the poor outing of Team Nigeria in the just concluded Tokyo Olympics for which many people wanted him crucified, this, according to him, has been the country’s best since 2012. That year, Nigeria had a woeful outing. It failed to win a single medal for the first time in Olympic history since 1988.
However, in 2016, Nigeria left Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with only a bronze medal won by the men’s football squad, U-23 football team, led by Mikel Obi (also coached by Samson Siasia). The team had a 3–2 triumph over the Hondurans. This year, Nigeria won two medals, a silver in wrestling won by Blessing Oborodudu and a bronze in long jump won by Ese Brume.
The Minister said this in a lengthy interview (to be published soon) and a statement he personally signed and distributed to the press early this week.
In his words: “Nigeria succeeded with two medals – a silver in wrestling won by Blessing Oborodudu and a bronze in long jump won by Ese Brume. Their performances were inspiring for they affirmed we can and should compete at the highest levels across the full range of sports events. Yes, we had wished and worked for more medals. But we must also put things in perspective. The medal outcome at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stands as Nigeria’s best result in the last 13 years.
Moreover, the athletes of Team Nigeria did their nation proud. Many of them reached the finals of their respective sports and, competing with all they had, were in contention for medals until the final moment. Anyone who saw their efforts would have nothing but the utmost respect for them, their coaches and all the technical staff that made Tokyo possible.
I thank President Muhammadu Buhari for his unrelenting support for Sports and Youth development and indeed for the opportunity to serve and lead our participation at these games. Team Nigeria placed 74th position on the final Olympic medal table among 205 participating countries, despite our small contingent to the games. We were 8th among 52 African countries that participated. Team Nigeria excelled in many areas that engender hope for greater success in the future.
Nigeria had five Olympic finalists in 100 meters Hurdles Women, Short Put, Long jump, Wrestling and 100 meters men. Team Nigeria broke the 13 year old jinx of no medal in Long jump and 25 years of no finalist in the men’s 100 meters, and secured a medal in wrestling for the very first time. Overall, our performance was good and more importantly it is headed in the right direction.”
On 10 Team Nigeria athletes ruled ineligible to compete for missing their mandatory Out of Competition Test (OTC), the Minister said he would take responsibility for any lapse which happened as a result of the failure of certain officials in the institutional performance chain. As he put it: “While the general trends and overall performance were positive, I must mention two unfortunate incidents that occurred.
First is the mishap resulting in 10 Team Nigeria athletes being ruled ineligible to compete for missing their mandatory Out of Competition Test, OTC. When notice of this ruling got to me, I immediately mobilized my team and the AFN leadership to see how the situation could be salvaged. We mounted a vigorous appeal process with the Athletics Integrity Unit, AIU, and had the team members complete the tests. However, timing became a critical issue. Despite our energetic appeal, the deciding committee made its announcement which gave no latitude to our team members for what was only an inadvertent lapse.
The adverse decision was painful to accept. We had prepared carefully and eagerly for the Olympics with the expectation that each person, federation, coach, and the athlete would also complete the necessary preparations required of them. As Minister, I ensured that all necessary approvals were done so that all requisite tests and exams could be timely completed. For me, this unfortunate incident is most painful because these athletes had prepared long and hard and also in view of the challenging circumstances due to COVID-19.
As the Minister, I must bear some institutional responsibility for this lapse. I also had to depend and expect that each person in the long and often technical chain will perform their role expeditiously and with precision. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, someone failed in their responsibility and as Minister, I bear the responsibility and brunt of the criticism. But that is not enough. I must move to ensure that Nigeria never experiences another such moment. I have ordered a full investigation that will not only uncover what happened but will also, recommend a process where such lapses can never occur in the future and initiate leveraging compliance monitoring technology to guardrail this.”
Meanwhile, Minister Dare has constituted a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding 10 athletes of Team Nigeria becoming ineligible to contest at the just concluded Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The committee of seven to investigate the development is chaired by Professor Ken Anugweje of the University of Port Harcourt, while other members are Dr John Onyeudo, Director Sports Medicine in the Ministry; Femi Ajao of the Ministry’s Zonal office and Maria Wophil, of the Federation and Elite Athletes Department (FEAD) of the Ministry as Secretary.
Other members of the Committee are Dr Abdulkadir Muazu, who is a former Director of Science at the National Sports Commission; DIG. Sani Mohammed, a former board member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN); and Udo-Obong Enefiok, former athlete and Olympian.