THE DEARTH OF QUALITY SPORTING TALENTS: BANE OF SPORTS DEVELOPMENT

The Nigeria sporting community has often had it good in the past in the quality of talents and athletes that had been discovered from different nooks and crannies of the country to compete and represent Nigeria in international competitions. Well, these athletes before they rose to fame and prominence, the medium or platform to which they were discovered is something to be desired of.

whilst some talents were discovered by grass root coaches during grassroots competitions, some came through the youth ranks of  their local sports clubs, others were scouted and harnessed by international sporting scouts during local competitions.

Suffice to say here too that some sporting talents emerged to the big stage, through the professional reportage of a sports journalist like the case of SUNDAY OLISEH doing great things for his Belgian club side in the early 90’s –and this quickly aroused the interest, and caught the attention of MUMINI ALAO, a sports journalist with the complete sports news tabloid. Indeed, MUMINI ALAO, promptly alerted national team selectors about the massive talent he’s discovered in SUNDAY OLISEH, and of course the appropriate quarters responded swiftly to this, and he was subsequently invited to the Super Eagles Camp and the rest has now become history.

To further elaborate on this piece, as the subject matter depicts, Nigeria has produced so many great athletes like, MARY ONYEALI-OMAGBEMI, CHIDI IMOH, ANEFIOK UDOBONG, MARIA UTONDU, DEJI ALIU, INNOCENT EGBUNIKE, CHIOMA AJUNWA, NDUKA ODIZOR, SEGUN ODEGBAMI, GLORIA ALOZIE and many others.

They all did great exploits, and won laurels for Nigeria. Let me quickly point out here that these aforementioned athletes were discovered from different sporting medium and platforms, and held sway tenaciously, with other established international athletes during their era.

However, to further buttress my assertion, one of the high points or factor that contributed to the discovery and emergence of these athletes, was the inconsequential absence of bribery and corruption, zero tolerance to nepotism and tribalism, and passion and sincerity to sports. In the early 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, athletes discovered, and brought to the limelight do not need to get any god father nor have huge contact to an influential politician in  Aso Rock before he or she can rise to the top of his or her budding career. In fact, these days, it is a norms amongst politicians to hand notes and letters to some of its protégés to take to handlers and coaches of National teams to get them selected for International Competitions.

Such letters and notes from a highly placed citizen of Nigeria, are instantly honored. But what this does to the psyche, quality and composition of the team in terms of performance output, usually boomerang because the athletes that got an invite to the National team camp through a god father, ends up contributing little or nothing to help the course of the team. In order words, we’ve had so many cases of mediocre strolling into our National teams which inadventedly affects performances. These mediocre are a cog in the wheel of our sporting progress because they are often chosen and selected for International Competitions at the expense of immensely gifted, and highly talented athletes that would have been of immense value to our national teams.

Similarly, athletes from individual sports like gulf, table tennis, Lawn tennis, squash, badminton etc are not to be left out of this debate.  For example; aging SEGUN TORIOLA has been a Nigerian International table tennis Player, representing Nigeria at various International Competitions for years. In this instance, it is a fundamental problem that our table tennis discovery platform have not gotten it right in discovering and harnessing a table tennis talent that will rival SEGUN TORIOLA and possibly force him into retirement. Haruna Quadiri is gradually coming up but whether he will sustain the momentum and have the longevity of  SEGUN TORIOLA, it remains to be seen and assessed in the coming years. More so, there is no Nigeria in any grand slams tennis competitions and since the exit of NDUKA ODIZOR from lawn tennis, we have failed to make an appreciable mark in lawn tennis, and, the possibility of Nigeria making an inroad and having its name print in gold in the game of lawn tennis, is shrouded in mystery.

Taking stock of the aforementioned drawbacks and its consequential effects, let’s go back to our old ways of discovering and harnessing local talents. Let’s continue in the tradition of School Competitions like Principals’ Cup for Secondary Schools, Revive YSFON, empower the scouting departments of our various sporting federations, and corporate Sponsorship of Sponsoring local Sporting Competitions to harnessing and discovery talents should not be left out of this too. We must also take note of one fact, and that is the ages of discovered athletes. Let all and Sundry that are passionately concerned about the tremendous growth and development of our sports, ensure that there is no connivance of any sort to have these athletes falsify their ages.

Most importantly, let’s have a deliberate developmental sports program where we can discover these athletes early, groom and nurture them until they attain adulthood. Revelation from the medics has it that athletes that are discovered at their prime, has an “expiry” period to which their strength and body can carry them to perform maximally at the top. In fact, famous athletes globally, where discovered from infancy- they learned the basic and fundamentals of their trade (sports). They work assiduously on their weaknesses, improves on their strength, and some years down the line, become successful and famous.

We can go on and on talking about these but we must first consider sports as a channel for wealth creation and employment. We must therefore, erase and eliminate all the aforementioned bottlenecks and pitfalls that has incoherently caused a dearth in the supply of quality sporting talents. This would afford us the opportunity to bounce back in the nearest future to compete with other countries that had been bullying Nigeria with quality performances over the years courtesy of its quality athletes.

It is time to arise and reclaim our place in the committee of sporting nations.

Worse still, our performance index in the last three Olympics has nosedived significantly. Also, one of  our major athletes like BLESSING OKAGBARE that we so much placed our medal hope on did  blew hot and cold, and, fizzled out at the last hurdle. Kenya and Kenyan athletes have dominated long distance races in Africa and beyond for ages,  and in the short sprint event, the 100m, and 200m use to be the exclusive reserve of Nigeria.  We have failed to take advantage of   sports to which we have comparative advantage over the rest of Africa, and perhaps continue to ruffle feathers with the big guns at the global stage. But for some years now, athletes from other African countries have been holding their own and giving our athletes a run for their money. This should be a worrying source of concern to many. It is time to wake up from our slumber and put an end to this shambolic and declining trend.

It is time to act dispassionately, spiritedly and promptly to save our free fall.