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Commonwealth medalists deserve national honours

The superlative performance of Nigerian athletes at the just concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, wiped away the tears on the faces of Nigerians…

The superlative performance of Nigerian athletes at the just concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, wiped away the tears on the faces of Nigerians as a result of the serial under-performance by Nigerian footballers in continental competitions in recent times.  With the historic win of 12 Gold, 9 Silver and 14 Bronze, making a total of 35 medals, and climbing to the seventh position out of 42 Commonwealth countries that competed for medals, Team Nigeria demonstrated that greatness could still emerge from Nigeria, regardless of its multiple challenges and not-so-impressive image in the international community. The last time Nigerian athletes made a similar mark was in 2014, when Team Nigeria returned home from the Commonwealth Games with 11 Gold, 11 Silver and 14 Bronze.

President Muhammadu Buhari captured the electrifying emotions that dovetailed the feat achieved by the athletes when he said “We are proud of these achievements and the memories will linger with the nation forever and for me this is a special moment and a fitting parting gift, being my last Commonwealth Games as Head of State.” He also lauded the coaching crew “for all their contributions in making our athletes shine in the international arena.” What stands out for Team Nigeria is the fact that the 12 gold medals were won by women, a clear indication that, if given the opportunity, Nigerian women could match women in other parts of the world in any field of human endeavour.

Against all odds, 25-year-old Tobi Amusan set the female athletes in the mood of victory with her gold win in the 100 metres dash at the World Athletics Championship, in the United States. She would be the first Nigerian to win gold medal in that global competition.  To prove that the medal she won at the championship was due to perspiration, not propelled by  a wind of luck, Tobi repeated the feat at the Commonwealth Games, where, as a defending champion,  she still won the gold medal in 100 metres dash in the 2022 competition. Her performance opened the floodgate of more gold medals as women athletes in Team Nigeria raked in 12 gold medals.

The impressive performance at the Commonwealth Games was not by chance; it was a product of a creative strategy for sports financing, called ‘Adopt-an-Athlete.’ An initiative launched by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2019, it encouraged state governments and corporate organizations to sponsor at least one promising athlete, whether home-based or foreign based. States like Delta, Edo, Ogun, Lagos and Bayelsa, as well as corporate organizations like Fidelity Bank, Zenith Bank, United Bank for Africa Plc, and Access Bank, adopted at least an athlete, making available a minimum of $10,000 to home-based athletes and $20,000 to foreign athletes. With this funding support, the athletes had resources to purchase their kits and train comfortably without being worried about what to eat and how to meet their basic living expenses. Among beneficiaries of this initiative were 38 athletes who returned home with medals from the competition in Birmingham. With this achievement, we call on state governments and corporate organizations to key into this initiative and other of such, as it has proved to be a strategy for reviving sports in the country.

Apart from the above financial support, the Ministry of Sports officials encouraged the athletes at the just-concluded competition by ensuring their allowances were paid promptly, a total deviation from previous ignoble neglect of our sports men and women in the heat of international competitions. On several occasions  Nigerian teams embarked on embarrassing and even shameful protests, like refusing to train for an impending match, because officials of the ministry behaved in a dubious manner by withholding earned allowances, or even shortchanging athletes. We commend the authourities for this and urge them to keep it up. Transparency and accountability are formidable ways of building trust between our sports men and women and officials of the ministry of sports, as demonstrated in Birmingham. We must not deviate from it.

No doubt, Nigeria and Nigerians have potential in various fields, not just in sports. It is clear that Nigerians can hold their own in any vocation in any part of the world. We call on government and the corporate community to help Nigerians unleash their potential by giving them the needed support. That is why we  encourage the Buhari administration to go beyond words in acknowledging the feats of Team Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games, by decorating them with award of  national honours. This will encourage more youths to apply their energies in areas that will profit themselves and the nation.