Today is the opening day of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the day the world’s elite athletes have been waiting for, where the results of several years of planning and preparation will come to the fore.



• Poor preparations may dim Nigeria’s chances

Today is the opening day of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the day the world’s elite athletes have been waiting for, where the results of several years of planning and preparation will come to the fore.

Billed for the iconic Maracana Stadium, today’s opening ceremony is expected to show off Brazil in her multicolour best, with supermodel, Gisele Bundchen and carnival dancers taking the estimated three billion worldwide audience through the diverse culture of this economically and socially troubled nation.

The organisers say the ceremony will capture Brazil’s amazing diversity, love of music – and talent for fun.

Speaking ahead of the opening ceremony, co-artistic director, Daniela Thomas, told the world press that “we want to have the biggest party there has ever been in this country.”

The ceremony, according to Thomas, will be bigger than the Rio Carnival, which is acknowledged as one of loudest fiestas you can see in any part of the world.

Just as everybody involved in this ceremony expects a good time, Brazil’s acting president, Michel Temer, expects a torrid time from the crowd. The former Vice president has been booed everywhere he went by a Brazilian populace, who see him as an usurper of the throne following the suspension of President Gilma Roussef.

But Temer’s will be a short stint in the sun as he is expected to just say a few words to declare the event open after which he will leave the stage for the main gladiators.

It is not yet known who will carry the Olympic torch into the stadium, but there are speculations that football icon, Pele, has been given the nod to light the flame, which will signal the beginning of the race for medals.

An unidentified official of the organising committee expressed confidence that Brazil will stun the world with the quality of the spectacle today. “We will have a moment in which we will show… the Brazilian way of receiving people.”

One of the highlights of the opening ceremony is the march past in which athletes and officials from each participating country will parade in the Maracanã Stadium preceded by their flag and placard bearer.

In keeping with Olympic traditions, Greece will enter first, while Brazil, the host nation, will enter last. Other countries will enter in alphabetical order, with Team Nigeria’s Vice Captain, table tennis star, Funke Oshonaike, leading her compatriots in the celebrations.

The show of colours and dance during the march past could be Nigeria’s nearest to the limelight in Rio, as the usually serious countries, China, USA, Great Britain, Republic of Korea, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Kazakhstan are expected to maintain their leading positions at the end of the games.

Africa’s most decorated player, Segun Toriola,

Africa’s most decorated player, Segun Toriola,

Russia, which finished in the fifth position at the London 2012 Games, may find it difficult to be among the top 10 countries in Rio following the disqualification of most of its prominent athletes due to the doping scandal that has rocked the country.

Africa’s hunt for medals, as usual, will be championed by Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco, with Algeria, Botswana, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire also capable of making headlines in Rio.

Not surprisingly, Nigeria may end empty handed in Rio as it did in London four years ago because the country, formerly a giant at the games, did not prepare well to suggest that it is ready to change its position as one of the also-rans at the end of the competition.

Shortly before the country’s athletes started leaving for Rio in batches due to ‘paucity of funds,’ Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, told Nigerians that he expected the country to get as many as 15 medals from Rio. He added, however, that he was sure of at least five medals from the games.

That expectation was not matched by support for the teams, as many of the federations could not assemble their athletes for final preparations on time.

Followers of Nigerian sports believe that this could surpass the London 2012 Games as the worst the country has ever done, even though ‘we did not win any medal four years ago.’

When Nigeria returned from the poor outing at the London 2012 Games, the uproar that followed the performance was such that the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, summoned a national sports summit, where experts from different fields came together to chart a pathway to success in future events.

One of the results of that summit was the decision that the country must begin preparations for Rio 2016 immediately. That was in 2012 when Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi was the sports minister. But shortly after his removal from office, his successor, Tamuno Danagogo, discarded all the efforts aimed at preparing Team Nigeria for a better outing at the Rio 2016 edition of the games.

On assumption of office, Dalung, who took over from Danagogo in the current regime, has, according to experts, not done anything to help Nigerian athletes prepare for the challenges in Rio.

Nigeria will compete in 10 events, including athletics, football, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, table tennis, rowing, canoeing, swimming and basketball, with 86 athletes representing the country.

Speaking recently on the country’s poor preparation for the games, Mallam Abdullahi said events that have played out since four years ago point to another colossal failure for Team Nigeria in Brazil.

Mallam Abdullahi, who delivered a paper at the African Sport Management Association Seminar on June 16 in Abuja, said, “London was not the first time we would be returning from the Olympics empty-handed. It happened in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics. The issues that led to our fantastic failure in Seoul were the same issues that led to our failure in London and almost definitely, Rio later this year.”

Olympics gold medallist in 4×400 metres, Enefiok Udo Obong, told The Guardian shortly before the games began that the calibre of administrators of Nigerian sports ensures that the country continually flounders in international competitions.

He said: “To win a medal at the Olympics, an athlete must prepare for at least seven years before the games. You don’t prepare for the games in an Olympic year. That is when serious athletes are supposed to be fine-tuning their strategies for the games.

“We should have budgeted for the 2016 games immediately after London 2012 edition.

“I hear that the administrators have promised to reward outstanding performers in Rio handsomely in dollars. But motivation in dollars does not make an athlete win, training does. Preparation is key to good performance.

“It is unfortunate that we are praying for Blessing Okagbare and the wrestlers to get it right in a country of more than 70 million youths. It is unfortunate.”

Udo-Obong, however, does not dismiss the Nigerian spirit guiding one or two athletes to an unexpected performance in Rio.

“We have some athletes who can rise above the poor preparation to do something significant in Rio. I know that wrestling because of its leadership can spring surprises.”

Dismissing Nigeria’s presence in Rio as a jamboree, former senior national football team captain, Segun Odegbami, lamented that the country has not learnt from its past mistakes in other games.

Odegbami, who decried the late release of funds for the games by President Muhammadu Buhari, echoed Udo-Obong’s belief that it would take a miracle for the country to come home with a medal from Rio.

He said, President Buhari recently “hosted part of the Nigerian delegation going to the Olympics and announced the release of the funds that should have been released years ago to make training of the athletes and Nigeria’s quest for medals both meaningful and realizable.

“His remarks during the event clearly showed he was not taken in by the empty promises of officials that Nigerians should expect a haul of medals now that funds have been released.

“There is nothing like that on the cards. Medals are not won by fire brigade, last minute, funding of preparations to the Olympics. Winning a medal at such games requires proper scripting, planning and disciplined execution of programmes for between six and eight years of dedicated hard work and plenty of good luck.

“Nigeria has not done anything since London 2010 to even justify winning a wooden medal not to talk of Bronze, Silver or Gold. Some officials must know some things the rest of us do not to be making such promises. They did so in the past and got away with not delivering anything.

“This time, it is a different government and a different mentality. Questions will be asked and people required to account for their deeds and promises.  So, I wonder what would happen when the team returns in August and Nigerians see clearly that this is another ride, another jamboree, another wasteful adventure of a country expecting to reap fruits of metal when it had only planted seeds of wood!”

Funke Oshonaikle is Team Nigeria’s assistant captain to the Rio 2016 Olympics. PHOTO: AFP.

Funke Oshonaikle is Team Nigeria’s assistant captain to the Rio 2016 Olympics. PHOTO: AFP.

While Odegbami is not deceived by Dalung’s boast that the country would win at least five medals in Rio, Team Nigeria’s new girl, Chierika Okogu, says she is ready to excel.

Ukogu, who will compete in the female category of the rowing event, admitted that sport had been challenging, adding, however that she has done enough to believe that she would perform creditably.

“I had access to training facilities in the U.S. and I am also opportune to practice with the U.S team.

“With all these, I am hopeful and will continue to do the needful to have a good outing in Rio,” she said.

Ukogu said that sourcing for funds was one of the major challenges in preparing for the Games, adding, however, that the International Rowing Federation supported her preparation for the Rio Olympics.

“Funding my training was really challenging, I have to use `GoFundMe’ to raise money for some of my expenses.
“I also got support from the Nigeria Rowing, Canoe and Sailing Federation (NRCSF), but it was not enough,” she said.

Ukogu will begin her journey in the rowing event today.

Team Nigeria began their quest for honours with a football match against Japan in the early hours of today. They will also be involved in the basketball, boxing and table tennis today. Athletics will begin on August 12.

Although the Supporters Club have not yet arrived in Rio, the country’s contingent are not lacking in support as Nigerians from all parts of South America troop to the Nigerian House to encourage the athletes.

The Nigerian House Project recently released its theme song, which its Coordinator and Chief Executive Officer, Mohammed Abdullahi, says will lift the spirit of the athletes.

Abdullahi is thrilled with the theme song ‘Going for Gold’ written to create awareness and garner support for Team Nigeria in Rio.

Abdullahi told Nigerian journalists that ‘Going for Gold’ has been endorsed and adopted as the official theme song/video for the Nigeria House Project in Rio with motivational lyrics. He added: “We do not have proper jurisdiction for the games but as a hospitality house the theme song/video will be played in the Nigeria House in Rio as part of our support for Team Nigeria in an effort to further sensitise and mobilize support for Team Nigeria in Rio.”

The song written by John Wakawa, featuring Styl Plus, E. Daniels, Menyaa, Angel V, Anita and Tochi and produced by E. Daniels, Dominic Danjuma and John Wakawa, according to spokesperson of the group, John Wakawa, will go a long way in creating awareness and support for the Nigerian contingent.

The Nigeria House in Rio, the officials said, serves as a one stop shop for variety of events including business investors consortium, cultural entertainment, Nigerian cuisine, fashion shows, musical concerts and films shows.

Source:The Guardian NigeriaThe Guardian Nigeria