By the time you are reading this piece the U-23 National football team (please let’s stop calling them “Dream Team”) may have secured a consolatory bronze medal by beating Honduras or the women’s 4x100m relay quartet might miraculously snatch an olympic medal from their relay race but as at the time of writing no Nigerian has won a medal at the ongoing Olympic games.
As for the 4x100m women’s quartet a miracle is needed for them to win a medal because out of the other seven countries participating only the Canadian team had a slower qualifying time, which means, on paper, out of the eight countries participating the Nigerian team is the seventh fastest and there is no Olympic medal for seventh place. Miracles do happen anyway.
A wise person has observed that at the on-going Olympic games, the top four positions on the medal table are occupied by the four biggest economies in the world, the USA, China, Germany and The United Kingdom. If not for Russia occupying fifth position on the table and pushing Japan to sixth position, the top five positions on the medal table would also have been the five largest economies in the world!
Is it a coincidence that economic prosperity leads to sporting success? Absolutely not! However, it’s not as if the governments of these countries divert national resources to pay their athletes, no. As a matter of fact, most of their athletes are funded through private, not government initiatives.
The truth behind their sporting success is this: The same effort and discipline applied to their economic development is diverted to sports development.
For example, in the United Kingdom, Olympic athletes are funded by proceeds derived from the National lottery played by UK residents every week.
According to a UK Guardian report, UK Sport, which determines how public funds raised via the national lottery and tax are allocated to elite-level sport, has pledged almost £350m to Olympic and Paralympic sports between 2013 and 2017. That is over a quarter of a billion Pounds for just one Olympic cycle! It is estimated that each Olympic medal won by the United Kingdom in Rio cost about £5.5m.
It all started after the Athens games in 1996 when the United Kingdom did so badly that even Nigeria with the two gold medals we won at those games topped Britain on the medal table. The British authorities realised something had to be done and no government would commit political suicide by using tax payer’s money to sponsor Olympic athletes.
Reportedly, the UK government spent just £5m per year funding Olympic sport before the 1996 Atlanta games but UK Sport spent £54m on elite sports in the run-up to the Sydney games in 2000 – where Team GB won 28 medals and ranked 10th. By the time of London 2012 it was spending £264m, and Team GB came third in the medal table, with 65 medals. (BBC)
After the woeful performance by Team GB in Atlanta ‘96, the UK government decided to fund Olympic athletes from money realised from the National Lottery. So far a total of £4.4b has been spent on sports since the National lottery started in 1994 two years before the Atlanta games.
It’s about time Nigeria started a private funded initiative to stop the national embarrassment we experience every four years at the Olympic games. One would have thought that after the London 2012 games somebody in a position of authority would do something in the name of national pride but it’s obvious that our leaders have absolutely no pride or shame for that matter.
On a final note, let’s hope that when such a private initiative commences, all the money raised will actually go towards sports development and not diverted elsewhere like the $2.1b meant for purchase of ammunition.