Lessons from 2019 African Games – New Telegraph

The 12th African Games which started on August 16 in Rabat, Morocco, came to a close at the weekend with plenty of lessons for Nigeria to learn. Egypt had 101 gold, 97 silver and 72 bronze medals to emerge tops in the final overall medals table with Team Nigeria in the second place after winning 46 gold, 33 silver and 47 bronze medals.

That position, we must stress, is a very ‘distance’ second position. South Africa recorded 36 gold, 26 silver and 25 bronze medals to place third. The difference between Egypt and other countries including Nigeria is an indication of how serious the Egyptians prepared for the event. We congratulate Team Nigeria athletes for fighting hard to place second after a rather slow start due to the country’s inability to compete well in swimming and other medal spinning sports. After day 10 of the competition, Nigeria had only three gold medals but as the athletics, weightlifting and wrestling events started, the gold rush began for Nigeria.

The weightlifters were particularly amazing with 16 gold 13 silver and 18 bronze medals. We make bold to say that the events of the last two weeks have shown that the ministry of sports and the federations will have to double efforts to maximize the enormous potential in Nigeria. It is sad that Team Nigeria is fast losing grip in areas of core competence. The first three table tennis gold medals were won by Egypt in the men’s team event, women’s team event and the mixed doubles.

Thankfully, Nigeria won the male singles to clinch two gold, four silver and four bronze medals. Taekwondo was expected to provide at least six gold medals but Nigeria won only one gold medal courtesy of Ruth Nwosu. The women’s athletics 100m outing was a shame. The two Nigerians on the final start list came 4th and 8th which is unacceptable in sprints.

The men won gold and bronze, but the women crumbled after Blessing Okagbare was disqualified. Okagbare again did not wait for the 200m event because of the Diamond League race in France. It’s sad there was no discipline in camp such that athletes can come in or go out as they wish.

In Morocco, Cameroon, South Africa and Cote d’Ivore were challenging Nigerian sprinters on the tracks. And Ivorian Ta Lu won the gold in women’s 100m. Egypt for many years played second fiddle behind Nigeria in table tennis but now our ping pongers are battling to catch up with Egypt. In medal-spinning sports like swimming, gymnastics, shooting, there are no efforts by the ministry and the federations to make the athletes challenge the likes of Egypt, South Africa and Morocco in their areas of core competence. We salute the industry of the football teams to the games. The Falconets won gold while the Flying Eagles settled for silver as Nigeria continues the search for football gold after 46 years.

The rampaging weightlifting and wrestling teams should be exposed and prepared well for the Olympic Games since these are clearly the country’s best prospects for Tokyo Games medals. We give kudos to the ministry of sports for the reward system activated for medal winners during the games.

They were promptly paid for their efforts. Egypt has raised the bar at the African Games and it is important for the federations and the ministry to bring in the private sector to help other sports. Government alone cannot lift sports and action must be taken now before it is too late. Corporate Nigeria must be heavily involved in the drive to save sports federations.

The multinationals can sponsor sporting activities or top athletes just to boost the country’s overall pedigree. We are aware that poor funding has been a major bane in the development of sports in the country. Proper planning is required to provide all the needs of athletes in terms of welfare, grants, adequate camping, training tours, modern facilities and ensure the athletes are generally motivated to be at their best. Team Nigeria should be winning the African Games if there are proper plans to get the best from the talents at the country’s disposal.

In the past, all the federations embark of training tours before major competitions like the African Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. This must be the normal template to enable the athletes to focus better and also be exposed to top-class facilities.

Team Nigeria must be prepared to win at least 10 gold medals in Swimming, 10 in gymnastics and also shooting in future African Games. The country’s strong areas must not be lost in the process of encroaching in other areas where Egypt, South Africa and Morocco excel.

Early preparation is also very crucial to guarantee better performance while elite athletes must get their grants duly. Some sports discipline especially table tennis; require better technical depth to get better. Experienced duo of Segun Toriola and Funke Osonaike should be drafted into the coaching crew of the ping pong game While we once again appreciate the overall second position of the team, it is important to clearly state that there is need for better funding and planning to narrow the gap between Egypt and Team Nigeria in future games.

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